Shop small: Farmer-owned meat markets offer fresh, local products

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The inside of The Farmer's Rail
The soup of the day was beef chilli and the sandwich of the day was house roast beef at The Farmer's Rail in Bath Township, Ohio. (Lucy Schaly photo)

Most days, Mary Anne Kettering can be found in a hair net, apron and gloves at MaryAnne’s Meats in Lexington, Ohio. Some days, she hits the ground running at 5 a.m.

Owning her own business, however, where she can sell beef from her and her husband’s farm in Ashland and other fresh, local meat, is worth it.

“We’re a dying breed,” Kettering said. “There’s not a whole lot of meat markets left, not like there was.”

U.S. Census Bureau numbers show the number of meat markets in the country dropped from 7,214 to 5,240 from 1997 to 2017.

Despite these numbers, Kettering isn’t the only one who opened, instead of closed, her doors recently.

Summit County farmers Melanie and Jeff Brunty, owners of Brunty Farms, opened their own store, The Farmer’s Rail, Artisanal Meats and Butcher Shop, in Bath Township, in February 2018.

“There was so much love that went into all these animals, our biggest frustration was at the end of the day, we’d take them to the processor, and we’d lose all of that control,” Melanie Brunty said.

With a focus on fresh, local food, both stores have found success.

Meat market

MaryAnne’s Meats opened in 2007. Owning the market, however, was a lifelong goal for Kettering.

Kettering grew up on a farm, where they butchered their own ducks, chickens and geese and sent hogs from the farm to Border’s Market. She remembers picking up the meat with her family.

She learned to cut meat through Pioneer Career & Technology Center, and took classes at Ohio State University to get certifications to open her meat market. She met Charles Kettering, her husband, when he sent his cattle to the processing facility she worked at.

In 2003, she started processing deer in Lexington. All the while, she saved money for the meat market.

Now, under her apron, she wears a green, collared shirt with her market’s name and logo embroidered on it.

“I’ve worked my whole life toward this,” she said. “We never should have made it. We’ve had so much stuff happen.”

Setback

In June 2017, a car drove from Main Street straight through the wall of her market. No one was injured.

The market closed for almost 14 months. Then, in July 2018, it reopened. The first day, more than 1,000 customers came. Thousands more followed that week.

“There were people that couldn’t get in. They were yelling through the door, ‘Mary Anne, we’ll be back!’” Kettering said. “I am still just overwhelmed by the support.”

Even with this setback, Kettering expects to be just shy of a million dollars gross income this year.

“This’ll be our best year yet,” she said.

The meat market is fully inspected by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The meat arrives in quarters from processors, and Kettering and her nine employees cut it.

“I’m a good meat cutter,” she said. “I’m not afraid to tell anybody that.”

Mary Anne Kettering uses a saw to cut up a roast.
Mary Anne Kettering, owner of MaryAnne’s Meats in Lexington, Ohio, uses a saw to cut up a roast. (Lucy Schaly photo)

Brunty farms

Jeff Brunty started farming as a hobby at 13, after he went to a friend’s house and had an egg from a backyard chicken.

With no family background in farming, he asked his grandma to get chickens, which he raised.

Jeff and Melanie met when she was studying international business and marketing at University of Akron. Jeff had already started Brunty Farms and at that time started leasing a 17-acre farm to expand.

When they married soon after, they started raising poultry to sell eggs and meat at a farmers market. They expanded into pork, lamb and beef, then bought a 40-acre farm in Ashland, Ohio.

“I learned so much just from being down at the market and talking to customers,” Melanie said.

Jeff and Melanie Brunty, owners of The Farmer's Rail.
Jeff and Melanie Brunty own The Farmer’s Rail in Bath Township, Ohio. (Lucy Schaly photo)

Opening

After spending 10 years at a farmers market and running a CSA, the Bruntys had many community connections. They funded the store through “friends and family loans” from customers within 30 hours.

“I just remember the first day opening and having our butcher cut everything for the case,” Melanie Brunty said. “I almost got emotional … we raised that pig and now it’s fresh and beautiful in the case, unlike anything I’d ever seen in a frozen package.”

The Bruntys use E.R. Boliantz Co. and Newswanger Meats in Ashland for slaughtering for their large animals, and Buckeye Poultry for their chickens. The first two were already ODA-certified and they helped Buckeye Poultry gain the certification. Melanie Brunty said this allows them to focus more on the store and farm.

“We realized, ‘we’re not going to be able to do this alone,’” she said.

Buckeye Poultry was already certified to do custom work. The Bruntys helped them get fully state-inspected and reassured them that they would have consistent business from The Farmer’s Rail.

Once the meat is delivered in quarters, The Farmer’s Rail handles cutting and packaging.

Supply

Kettering sends her cows to Heffelfinger’s Meats for slaughter. She considered adding a kill floor to the farm years ago, but decided it would be too expensive.

“When I already have such a great company that can do that work for me, I just felt that it was a good decision,” Kettering said. “I’ve worked with them for so long, and I trust them.”

She buys some beef and other meat from local processors, and sometimes from local farmers.

“You still have to be able to keep up with demand, but I only buy the best,” she said.

Mary Anne Kettering pulls out half a cow from the cooler.
Mary Anne Kettering, owner of MaryAnne’s Meat Market in Lexington, Ohio, pulls out a half a cow from the cooler. (Lucy Schaly photo)

At The Farmer’s Rail, all of the pork, rabbit, lamb and poultry meat comes from Brunty Farms. The Bruntys work with other local farmers to meet the demand for beef.

Jeff Brunty visits the farms regularly to ensure they meet Brunty Farms’ standards. The livestock must be pasture-raised and fed GMO-free feed, like the Bruntys’ livestock.

“We realized very quickly that there’s such a demand for high-quality products,” Melanie Brunty said.

In its first year, The Farmer’s Rail sold about three times what they’d projected.

Customers

The Farmer’s Rail offers many local food products and try to use natural and organic ingredients in their recipes.

“I think we definitely pull in a certain crowd,” Melanie Brunty said. “People are starting to be more aware, wanting to know where food comes from.”

Kettering said most of her business growth comes through word of mouth. She has supplied some restaurants and nursing homes. She also takes custom orders.

“Because we’re so small, we can interact with our customers in a way most people can’t,” Kettering said. “I can stand there and cut meat and talk to them at the same time.”

Trust

Kettering is at the market most days. Her husband spends most of his time working on his business, B&K Mechanical Services, and running the farm in Ashland.

“Charlie and I trust each other,” Kettering said. “When it comes to him running the farm … or me running the meat market … we talk about things, but we don’t have to talk about everything.”

The Bruntys also rely heavily on each other.

“Jeff and I make a really good team,” Melanie Brunty said.

Jeff Brunty still handles a lot of the farming, in addition to inventory control and cost margins.

Melanie believes her marketing and product designs set their business apart when they were selling through farmers markets and CSAs. She also focuses on accounting and product control.

They have a third partner, Dave Mcilvaine, who helps with recipes and the leases.

The outside of The Farmer's Rail
The Farmer’s Rail in Bath Township, Ohio. (Lucy Schaly photo)

Future

The Bruntys have plans to open a second store in Hudson in the spring of 2020.

“We’re really excited to be expanding and taking this business model to another small community,” Melanie said.

Kettering is working on a holiday cookbook and painting gift boxes for the store.

The Ketterings hope to open a second market in Ashland, possibly with a smoke house. Charles, a relative of inventor Charles F. Kettering, wants to add a museum for antique tractors and family memorabilia.

“I’m still staying here in Lexington,” Mary Anne Kettering said. “I love my customers.”

An employee at MaryAnne's Meats checks out a customer
Christian Lamb, an employee of MaryAnne’s Meats in Lexington, Ohio, rings out a customer. (Lucy Schaly photo)

Details

MaryAnne’s Meats is at 38 West Church St., in Lexington, Ohio. For more information, call 419-884-0003, or visit MaryAnne’s Meats on Facebook.

The Farmer’s Rail is at 1572 N. Cleveland Massillon Road in Bath, Ohio. For more information, call 330-576-3333 or visit www.thefarmersrail.com.

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Reporter Sarah Donkin is a former 4-Her and a Mount Union graduate from Columbiana County, Ohio. She enjoys playing and writing music, cooking, and storytelling in many forms. She can be reached at 800-837-3419 or sarah@farmanddairy.com.

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