We are excited to announce that we are part of a collaboration to offer cost-share and training for farmers who are adopting climate-smart practices like cover cropping and rotational grazing, and then to market the products through our online and main street stores. Learn more at www.laurasmercantile.com/climate-smart
At Laura’s Lean Beef we built a company selling beef throughout the United States and Canada. This changed the food system on a large scale, as we were the first company to sell beef raised without antibiotics or growth hormones nationally.
I’m proud of the change we made, starting in 1985. Today, meats raised without antibiotics or growth hormones are available in grocery stores everywhere. But that time has passed. The new challenge is to adapt locally to the hard issues of climate change, rural poverty, social and environmental justice.
To this end, I’ve written our new mission statement, shared below. My blog posts to “our farm years” will be a report on how we are doing, and the newsletters will reflect this. Our Facebook and Instagram posts will be reflective of this mission, too.
Business is a part of life, part of the American way. But it doesn’t have to be rapacious, leaving a few rich people and many poor people. It doesn’t have to plunder the earth. Mt. Folly Enterprises, which I’ve funded, is owned by 9 people, all of whom are from east and east-central Kentucky. As the company grows and prospers, more people will become owners, and I will become a minority shareholder. Shared ownership, including decision-making and profit sharing, requires time spent listening, learning, planning and doing. We can depend on each other to create a culture of continuous improvement.
The natural environment is in crisis. At the same time, nature can heal herself. Industrial farming is at war with nature; we are not. To pilot nature’s healing, we are creating a new model of people, work and the environment, with a regenerative farm at the center and energetic local businesses radiating outward. Over time, the specifics of this template may change – the businesses may shift, an iterative process of learning may lead to new ways to be regenerative — but the process of discovering and improving the system will remain.
Genuine change comes from the street and fields — from the bottom, not from the top. Therefore, we remain focused on our community, its local faces, its strengths and its flaws. Since we are committed to real change, our goal is not to scale up, but to scale outward, not to centralize power and
resources, but to distribute them.
Our plants and crops are grown in organic soils, not fed chemical fertilizers as if on an IV. This makes them tougher, and better for you!
I’ve been farming all of my adult life. A drought and a cattle market price crash in the early 1980s helped me make a decision to start Laura’s Lean Beef. As it grew, the company became a complex puzzle of financial management, producer contracting, calling on retail accounts, balancing supply and demand, building a loyal customer base and answering to regulators. It drew me away from the day-to-day of running a farm which I missed, but it taught me many lessons about the shape of the global food system, which I needed to learn.
It took a couple of decades, but we built a nice business. Then in 2008, I had a horseback-riding smash up which put me out of commission for several years. We sold the company, and I thought I might retire. I moved to an island, settled in, but soon wondered how many yoga classes, seminars, and talks could I withstand. I like to work, and my husband is a working man. So back to the farm we came, to start again.
Organic food, grown and processed locally, is the best choice for our health, and for the health of our local landbase.
We have more cows in our county than people. That might be a problem, but a young man (a millennial) whose family farms 3 miles down the road, convinced me that we could sell our farm products on the internet.
We launched our online store, Laura’s Mercantile, two days before Thanksgiving, 2016. Since then, we’ve expanded our product line to include beloved regional items and hemp CBD products. Recently, our team was awarded a USDA grant to build out our farmer network and develop new brands and markets for climate-smart farm products in the Ohio River Valley.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
In the 1920’s, her guests seated for a dinner party in the dining room of her
“Delco House,” Rachel Ware Bush watched the lights dim as she served the soup. She nodded to her husband to go outside and pour more kerosene in the generator to charge the battery bank in the basement.
She laughed, rapped her fork on her glass, raised a toast and christened the home place “Mt. Folly.” So goes the story my grandmother told me, and thus it stays: Mt. Folly Farm, cobbled together from pioneer holdings, Civil War exigencies, and Fortuna. When I was young, my friends told me that calling the farm Mt. Folly made light of the effort it took to farm organically.
Years later, I don’t take myself so seriously, though I still work like the devil.
And I’ve kept the name!