Connecting Cow to Consumer

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At three-thirty a.m. on Fridays, the alarm awakens me to load the beef truck for deliveries to Louisville. It’s quiet at that time of day — even on the farm. I arrive at the office and complete my mission before Jackie arrives at five to start deliveries. I return home to help get the children off to school, my wife out the door to work, and then, after feeding chores, I depart for work at the farm store.

“Why?” I often ask myself. Our vision statement answers succinctly: Green River Cattle Company (GRCC), which is owned and managed by farmers in central Kentucky, connects local beef producers with end users. This November marks seven years of research, production, marketing, testing, and learning for GRCC.

Although formally composed of seven farmer board members and two employees, GRCC has impacted the livelihoods of over thirty central Kentucky family farms. These “source farmers” provide farm-fresh calves to our “feeder farmers” for finishing, that is, for raising to slaughter weight. Green River Cattle Company oversees the enrollment and feeding of all cattle produced, ensuring both source and process verification. We purchase cattle at finish weight, oversee the slaughter firsthand, and distribute the beef cuts to local grocers, chefs, and consumers. In addition, we develop our beef into value-added products like beef patties, bratwursts, jerky, wieners, and summer sausage using small, locally owned Kentucky processors.

Each finished cut of beef includes a source code that identifies the animal and permits us to track the feeding and handling processes. Because our production practices prohibit the use of hormonal implants or antibiotics, trade relationships built on trust and communication must be developed and maintained. Such relationships take time, effort, and documentation.

A similar relationship exists between GRCC and our customers. A good example occurred this summer when a chef from a Lexington hotel scheduled a visit to view our production practices firsthand. He arrived with his wife and assistant chef and spent the day bouncing around the countryside visiting our small and scattered farms. For him to stake his relationship with his clients on our product, he needs to know us. For us to consistently provide this chef with tender and delicious beef, we must trust the farmers that provide our cattle.

I am currently finishing thirty-two head of cattle on our farm for the company. With these calves slated for a January slaughter, I won’t be enjoying Thanksgiving Day beef tenderloin from my own farm. However, I know the Green River Cattle Company tenderloin my family and I will eat that day will have come from the farm of Phil or Ed or Robert or Ken or Rob or Roger . . . and because I know, I trust.


  1. Under the heading of LandCare, we’re attempting something similar in SW Virginia under the name of Grayson LandCare and would appreciate more information on experiences such as these in Kentucky. Thanks so much.

  2. It seems that the services of high-quality butchers and slaughterhouse operators are critical keys to this kind of operation. Are these practitioners finding sustainable livelihoods serving values-added small-farmer co-ops elsewhere in Kentucky?
    Thanks for this example of an elegant set of exchanges in a human, and humane, food economy.

  3. We are already producing with 6 participating farmers. The high-quality butchers is a missing element. Local services have declined and skilled butchers are seldom available. After WW II and the improvement in highways, the local abattoirs, mills, etc., could no longer compete with the feedlots, transportation of bulk grains, etc. In reinventing local foods, the challenge to create an alternative infrastructure is daunting. Our immediate needs here in SW Virginia and western North Carolina are the development of sound business plans and revolving loan funds so farmers can change management practices and we can establish small food processors and distributors.

  4. We are trying to get something in place for the Memphis area. We produce our own hay and protein feed using natural (not organic) methods. A small local slaughterhouse has agreed to add a shift if we can put together enough producers and develop the market. We think we can do that, though the management of the producers’ group may be a challenge. We have a large enough farm to serve as the central feedlot.

  5. This is a Central Kentucky beef producer who distributes via a CSA program:

    This is the best source I know of in Central Kentucky; I know they sell directly to the consumer and at farmer’s market;I think their co-op program involves selling to consumers. However, you may want to check out their program so you can consider all possible options.

  6. From a small processors viewpoint with 40 years experience and possession of the high quality skills discussed in these comments: We find that there is a lack of understanding (on the producer’s part) in the extra costs involved in the endeavors of a processor for a direct marketer. If you want the quality and the “art” of meat cutting, then don’t be looking at the “cheapest” processor. Sometimes you get what you pay for. Trust your processor and his expertise of your “meat” that is produced from your livestock. If he says it should hang longer, then let it. The meats tough. If tells you to feed longer, then do it. We know our meat. You will be happier with the end product and you’re customers will be too. We are also cattle farmers. We raise beef and offer them for sale in our retail meat market located in front of our processing facility. We are located in South Central Kentucky. Our beef have always graded USDA Prime. Trust us, you will turn out a better meat product.

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