We have to admit that we are spoiled rotten when it comes to local dining options in Louisville. Many of these locations embrace paying it forward, looking no farther than our own Bluegrass to find a variety of the artisanal ingredients that make their menus and flavors so special. Likely you’ve noticed the names of area farms popping up on menus around town, particularly those restaurants that cook seasonally, like Wiltshire Pantry and The Mayan Cafe. Today, we take a closer look at four farms coveted by chefs. We often see these names on Louisville dinner menus, but may not be sure who they are or what makes them so special and of such high quality. Here is a quartet of farms that are truly top shelf:
Four Local Louisville Farms to Know!
Foxhollow Farm—Maggie Keith
If you haven’t eaten the burger from the Mayan Cafe, made with grass-fed beef from Foxhollow Farm, you should stop what you’re doing and head to the restaurant immediately. It is that good! You don’t have to go out to eat to enjoy this humanely and naturally raised beef, however. Maggie Keith, co-founder and gardener, encourages locals to purchase their beef directly from the source via Foxhollow’s website or by joining their buying club. “While eating locally raised food out at a restaurant is great, farmers really need folks buying direct from the farm and cooking at home, too,” Maggie says.
This practice is one Maggie and her Foxhollow partners are passionate about. They believe that, as consumers, we can make a difference in our country’s agricultural practices. “If we only eat and purchase meat from local farmers who take pride in raising animals humanely and on pasture, conventional feedlot-finished, grain-fattened, antibiotic and added hormone-filled meats will slowly decline and more farmers will start raising what consumers are demanding. Cattle are ruminant animals made to eat grass. Feeding corn to cattle on a feedlot is a shortcut, making beef cheaper and faster to churn out. The cost to the animals, the earth and to us as consumers is too great. Grass-fed animals are not just healthier, they also have a richer flavor profile, reflective of the place where they are raised and the grass they eat. To truly eat top shelf, quality meat we must first, eat less meat and second, demand our beef is raised using practices that benefit the animal, the earth and ultimately, the consumer.” It’s no wonder that Foxhollow’s beef is celebrated on a variety of local restaurant menus. (Read our article about Foxhollow here.)
Grateful Greens—Greg Graft
Ever heard of the term hydroponic? We hadn’t either and it just happens to be the type of farming practiced by the good people of Grateful Greens. As their name would aptly suggest, Grateful Greens has a knack for growing leafy lettuces, herbs and edible flowers, all without the help of soil. Hydroponic farming instead relies upon the use of mineral- and nutrient-heavy solutions mixed with water, where the greens flourish. With a controlled environment, the practice of hydroponics has been revolutionary in the world of urban farming, and Grateful Greens has been a pioneer of this practice in Louisville.
Chances are, if you’re indulging in a bright and flavorful salad at a local restaurant in the region, Grateful Greens is in the mix. Basil is a bestseller, as well, and can be spotted all over town for purchase, including the Douglas Loop Farmer’s Market, on any given Saturday. You will notice that the root end is left intact on the greens, indicating that it was freshly plucked from the water and will likely enjoy a longer lifespan with continued light water treatment. Just another reason to eat your veggies!
Ambrosia Farm—Brooke Eckmann
Tomatoes are the name of the game at Ambrosia Farm, and Brooke Eckmann has quickly established herself as an authority in the heirloom department. A relative newcomer to the farming scene, Brooke left her life as a schoolteacher to instead celebrate the vast world of tomatoes. With 4,000 tomato plants on her farm and more than 80 heirloom varieties, there is no question that Ambrosia Farm is a tomato heaven of sorts. Louisville chefs have been building multicoursed meals around this bounty, including the most notable event hosted by Anthony Lamas of Seviche.
I found myself in happy attendance at this dinner on a recent evening, each tomato-laden course better and more impressive than the last. The evening began with a cottage cheese and tomato aspic and concluded with a German head tomato and strawberry sorbet. The endless variety of tomatoes offered by Ambrosia Farm is ripe with inspiration, as important an ingredient as any in the kitchen.
Marksbury Farm—John Mark Hack
The name Marksbury Farm is sure to ring a bell. Located in Nicholasville, Marksbury is a multifaceted organization, raising and selling their own grass-fed beef, heritage hogs, chicken and lamb while operating a processing facility, as well as running a restaurant and farm market. Along with a network of carefully chosen partner farmers, all from Kentucky, the health and sustainability of Marksbury’s soil and the comfort and humane treatment of their animals are placed above all else. They consider themselves stewards of their land; after all, where would we be without fertile soil? The preservation and sustainable treatment of this soil is the driving force behind Marksbury’s practices and they don’t hesitate to get the animals involved as well, rotating them throughout the land, their hooves turning the soil over as they go, their waste acting as natural fertilizer along the way.
This passion for the land and its animals was highly evident during a recent call I had with John Mark Hack, a partner with Marksbury Farm. The farm’s dedication to providing our region with a variety of high-quality, locally sourced ingredients is evident based on the number of local restaurant menus where their name is highly praised, their products the highlight of a meal. That take-away is almost obvious, expected. John Mark had some words of wisdom to share concerning the local food movement, which has blossomed over the past several years, growing in both popularity and profitability. The potential to capitalize on the marketing of the local movement should keep us all alert, as not everything may be as it seems. You never truly know what you’re getting unless you develop a relationship with the source. “Never be afraid to ask probing questions,” shares John Mark, adding that “the relationship is key.” Much like the mutually beneficial relationship Marksbury shares with its animals and their soil, I couldn’t help but think so.
In the end, it is all about relationships, isn’t it? Those we develop with our local chefs, who care enough to source their ingredients from the Bluegrass, and the relationships we cultivate week after week at the farmers market, with the individuals who drew our food from the ground with their own hands. Don’t be afraid to dive in, to embrace these relationships heartily. They have the potential to last a lifetime.