Kentucky Ag News
Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, left, and state Sen. Ernie Harris recently visited Maggie Keith at Foxhollow Farm near Crestwood. (Kentucky Department of Agriculture photo)
Mom's vision, daughter's business acumen led to grass-fed beef operation
Foxhollow Farm aims to feed the land while feeding its customers
By CHRIS ALDRIDGE, Kentucky Agricultural News
CRESTWOOD, Ky. - Maggie Keith was a student at Appalachian State University 11 years ago when she received a call from her mother, Janey Newton.
“My mom said: ‘We’re getting some cattle,’” Keith recalled.
Keith, who was studying business management and entrepreneurship, said her first thought was, “What are we going to do with them?”
“My mom said, ‘I guess we can sell some grass-fed beef,’” Keith remembered.
In one of her classes, Keith developed a business plan for raising grass-fed beef in Kentucky. It would be the blueprint for the Kentucky Proud beef business at 1,300-acre Foxhollow Farm in southern Oldham County, 15 miles north of Louisville.
“My mom is definitely the vision-holder of the farm,” Keith said. “She had the foresight; I just knew how to sell it.”
After Foxhollow Farm slaughtered its first steer in 2007, Keith took the grass-fed beef back to college with her in the mountains of scenic Boone, North Carolina, where she grilled hamburgers on the campus lawn and invited students to taste test them and provide feedback.
Newton is still active in running the farm with her daughter but was unavailable on a recent visit by Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles because she was busy being a grandmother to Keith’s child. Quarles toured the farm with state Sen. Ernie Harris, who represents the area.
Foxhollow Farm has been in the same family since the 1930s. An apple orchard and small dairy were located on the original 700 acres. By the 1970s, grain and hay were the primary crops, and the dairy cows were sold in the mid-1980s.
Next, Newton’s mother, Mary Shands, opened a health spa and bed and breakfast. By 1992, she had built an alternative medical clinic next to the old dairy barn and converted the milking parlor into a yoga studio.
Taking control of the farm in 2005, Newton and her siblings returned the farm to animal agriculture with the purchase of 30 steers in 2006.
“The idea was to heal this land using biodynamic agriculture,” Keith said, noting her great-grandmother, Jane Norton, was a biodynamic advocate. “The main reason we got in the cattle business was to heal the land.”
Biodynamic agriculture is a form of agriculture developed in 1924 that is very similar to organic farming and drawn from the ideas of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. According to a brochure from the Milwaukee-based Biodynamic Association: “Preparations made from fermented manure, minerals, and herbs are used in combination with healthy crop rotations, composting practices, and animal husbandry to bring out the full potential of each farm and garden.”
“The goal is to be self-sustaining,” said Derek Lawson, who studied animal science at Murray State University and manages the farm’s cattle herd of about 300 head, with plans to double it in size.
Lawson explained that the cattle feed on native grasses, which they fertilize with their manure while aerating the farm’s rolling fields with their hooves.
“It takes a little more work managing the pasture rotations rather than just filling up a feed trough,” he said. “I’ve done both, but I see the benefits of rotating cattle on pasture for the land and the animals. We don’t have the health problems they get in a feed lot.”
Foxhollow sells 60 percent of what it calls its “bluegrass-fed” beef wholesale through a partnership with another Kentucky Proud business, Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Markets, which has four Louisville locations. The remaining 40 percent of its sales are made directly to consumers, at farmers’ markets and through The Fox Shop, the farm’s online retail shop, as well as to restaurants, private schools, and to the Norton Hospital chain in Louisville for its “Grassfed Fridays.”
“I’m really impressed,” Quarles told Keith and Lawson. “You all have a very unique and viable brand.”
“Grass-fed beef gives us a niche market for sure,” Keith said, noting that Foxhollow’s beef is lower in fat and calories than conventional beef, and its cattle do not ingest hormones or antibiotics. “The grass-fed beef market nationally has grown 100 percent in the last three years.
“But the biggest niche we have is you know when you buy our product that you’re supporting a local farm,” she added. “I never want to see this [land] become a neighborhood. I want it to continue to be a viable business when my brother and I take over.”
Keith said about 80 percent of the farm’s business comes from neighboring Louisville, but she would like to do more business with her neighbors in Oldham County.
“We want to make grass-fed beef accessible to families and have them cook it at home,” Keith said. “We want to teach people how to cook and eat healthy.”
For more information about the farm and its grass-fed beef, go to Foxhollow.com.