Meet North Carolina Winner Weeping Radish Farm
Posted on Thursday, August 4th, 2011 in Charcuterie by Sandy Johnson
Weeping Radish Farm Brewery was founded by Uli Bennewitz in 1987. The brewery was officially open for business only after Uli collaborated with a local senator to pass a bill allowing microbreweries to sell their own beer on site. After years of brewing, Uli realized that when it came to quality beer and quality food, the issues were basically the same. About ten years ago he started the butchery with his joint venture partner Gunther Kuehle, a 5th generation craft butcher. Gunther chose the equipment, helped with the layout and hired a craft butcher from Uli’s native Germany to come over and start charcuterie production at Weeping Radish, using meat from small local farms.
Uli’s vision of what his charcuterie business would look like quickly evolved into something very different. Originally he planned to buy meat from local farms, add value and then sell the products himself. Instead he found that many of the small local farmers in his region frequently ended up with parts of meat they couldn’t sell; he therefore shifted his focus to creating a sustainable business. By both adding value to these unwanted but perfectly delicious meat cuts through cooking, smoking, labeling and then returning the products back to the farmers for them to sell themselves as added profit to their farm business, Uli found a new way to make small agricultural farms more sustainable. Uli calls this new idea of using otherwise wasted resources “side-streaming.” And it does not only apply to meat production, he also explains that he is now planning to install windmills on 5,000 acres of corn farmland. The idea is that not only will the land produce corn, but the space above will be used to create energy.
Uli’s goal as a local business owner and innovator in North Carolina, where the two extremes of factory farming and small family farms are located side-by-side, is to try to enhance what small farmers are doing. He tells me of an experiment he did in which he compared pork from a factory farm and from a local farm: “We took a Smithfield hog and then a free range hog and we made a spiced goulash. You would think you couldn’t taste the difference with such strong spices but we did a blind tasting and everybody got it right. If we can play an infinitesimal part in helping those farmers we have done our duty.”
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to creating value-added meat products on a small scale is that USDA regulations are geared towards large-scale meat production. These regulations however, make small sustainable production much more challenging. Uli gives me an example of an issue he has been debating just this week. He tells me that in North Carolina it is essentially illegal to sell eggs at a farmers market because of the regulations that are currently in place. A law written in 1985 states that eggs must be refrigerated at time of sale, clearly labeled and sold in a company carton. Though these restrictions may make sense for factory farmed eggs, they do not apply to small farmers and act as a disincentive for responsible production. Uli believes that education will be the best way to improve our system and he sees that interest in good food is increasing: “Our community is growing at a rate of thirty, forty, fifty percent. We’re obviously doing something right so the future is ours despite the problems we face.”
Winning a Good Food Award meant a tremendous amount to the employees at Weeping Radish Farm Brewery. Uli articulates what the award has meant to him: “Living in the rural south we look at markets like San Francisco and the West Coast as being 10 years ahead of us at least in terms of good food. Winning the Good Food Award we felt like we were equals and we were blown away.” After receiving the award, the food communities in the metropolitan areas near Weeping Radish began to pay more attention to the great work that they are doing and their business continues to grow.