In many ways, relationships drive the local food system. If you follow the path local food travels from field to fork, you’ll find partnerships built on common goals and mutual trust.
Take Foothills Meats and Mountainside Family Farms, for example. Foothills Meats is a butcher shop and restaurant with locations in West Asheville and Black Mountain, North Carolina. It offers local and pasture-raised meats that customers can take home to cook themselves or eat at the restaurant.
Foothills owner Casey McKissick says relationships with farmers have been essential to the business since the butcher shop opened in 2013.
“We’ve been able to build long term, reciprocal, beneficial relationships with a couple of different farms that we know and we trust,” he says.
Casey comes to those partnerships with a deep understanding of the challenges of farming. For more than 10 years he was a farmer himself. He grew vegetables, flowers, and small livestock in Swannanoa and Old Fort as Crooked Creek Farms, and later started a marketing co-op under the name Foothills Family Farms.
During this time, he delved deeper into whole animal butchery—the philosophy and practice of using every part of an animal. While many restaurants purchase cuts of meat, like chicken breasts or pork chops, this kind of butchery uses the whole animal to provide chefs and home cooks with meat that might otherwise go to waste.
Casey says he made this shift from farmer to butcher and restaurant owner because of his family. He wanted his sons to enjoy nostalgic foods from his childhood, like hot dogs and bologna, but made with local, pasture-raised meat. He believed this philosophy would resonate with customers who shared similar goals of supporting a thriving food system.
“That’s why the sign in front the building says honest meats. We’ve always been very transparent and always done things in that way, and fortunately, we’ve had some small farms that have been able to grow with us as our demand has increased exponentially,” he says.
One of those farms that’s grown alongside Foothills Meats is Mountainside Family Farms. It produces pastured livestock and poultry from two locations: Saltville, Virginia and Swannanoa, North Carolina. Melissa George is one of the primary farmers. When they were growing their farm business, Melissa contacted ASAP for suggestions on local buyers and Casey at Foothills Meats was on the list.
“I just went in and introduced myself to say, ‘This is who I am and what we do. He has been an incredible mentor because when you first start selling to restaurants it’s intimidating. For me, I want to make sure I do it right, and I want to make sure I do well. And he has been just a great person to help continue to educate me and mentor me in the ways of restaurants and just the importance of food in the in the local community here,” Melissa says.
“She wanted to talk about chickens and I’ve had experience growing chickens and processing chickens over the years myself, so we just connected over chickens immediately,” Casey adds.
The restaurant and butcher shop use chicken from Mountainside Family Farms several different ways. Here, chicken is a seasonal food, available after Mountainside and other farms harvest a flock. Customers can purchase a whole chicken or individual cuts to cook at home. Any extra meat is served at the restaurant as chicken salad or chicken patties, another nostalgic food made in-house using all the meat from the chicken.
Casey points out that it takes approximately 20 chickens to make a five-pound bag of chicken tenders sold at a grocery store. Foothills is bucking that trend by using every ounce of meat, frying the skins for a garnish, and turning the bones into stock. It’s one of the main reasons Melissa wanted to partner with Casey.
“To see someone who’s so like minded and to be able to take something and know that it is being used in its entirety, and know you’re being able to get the entire nutritional value out of that one animal is amazing,” Melissa says.
Casey says relationships with farmers are especially important as Foothills grows, and he hopes farms will scale up alongside the restaurant.
“Long term relationships with people that we know and trust means putting the most effort and skill and artisanal mentality into the animals that we buy. Not only does it respect them but it also creates a well-rounded product line that has a real story behind it,” Casey says.
Find restaurants that partner with local farms in ASAP’s Local Food Guide. Printed guides are available throughout the region or search the online guide at www.appalachiangrown.org
Aired: May 20, 2019