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Side Hill Farmers expand and innovate

Larger retail location opens with more local products and interactive space

— The 2014 culinary forecast is in: according to more than 1,000 chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association, locally sourced meats are the most sought-after food item in the country. The farm-to-table movement has energized chefs and consumers alike to demand more local, quality foods. Indeed, the most recent census shows farms selling directly to consumers increased sales by more than 300 percent since 1992, and are growing twice as fast as the country’s total agricultural sales.

Nowhere is this more apparent than Side Hill Farmers’ Meats and Market, a retail location both stocked and owned by livestock farmers out of Madison County. Since launching a year ago, the store has quadrupled its meat sales and number of employees, and is doubling the size of its current location. By the last week in June, there will be more retail space to house the dozens of local farm products now selling at the store, as well as made-from-scratch meals using those products. Additionally, a new seating area will double as the spot for meat-cutting and meat-cooking workshops, “Meet the Farmer” nights, and vegetable CSA pick-ups.

The fact that the Side Hill Farmers Cooperative owns the store — rather than just supplies it — is unusual. The USDA does not track how many retail locations are farmer-owned, but founding cooperative member Bee Tolman estimates that the number is less than a half-dozen nationwide.

Tolman said the farmer mindset factors deeply into each aspect of the Side Hill Farmers’ Meats and Market experience, from the treatment of animals to the use of local products in the store’s prepared foods. Four culinary chefs and butchers oversee the menu and are available to consult with patrons.

Tolman said that the store’s customers are interested in not just the farm their food comes from, but where it comes from on the animal, and the process that gets it to them.

“Our customers’ commitment to connecting with our farmers is not just the inspiration for the store’s upcoming events — it’s the most crucial element to our success at Side Hill Farmers’ Meats and Market,” Tolman said.

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