Photo by Sarah Dorroh Sweeney
A wooden spoon is Cathy Connor's must-have kitchen tool for making her flavor-infused sugars and spices.
Once the weather turns crisp and the calendar page flips to October, it’s time for the Hobby Farms editors to head to the Incredible Food Show in Lexington, Ky., giving them a chance to speak with producers creating locally made products. This year, we wanted to find out their most endeared gadget for creating (or in some cases, marketing) their products, as well as touch base with them about the challenges they’ve overcome as local businesses.
David Sponcil, Browning’s Country Ham
Browning’s Country Ham has been a family business since the 1970s. They offer cooked ham, uncooked ham, bacon, biscuits, cheese and more, offered in Kentucky retail outlets and online.
Favorite Gadget: Square
“This tool allows me to take debit cards and credit cards, so I can do business from my iPhone. I don’t need a computer to swipe the cards. My first time using it is today at the Food Show.”
Biggest Challenge: Marketing and advertising
“Right now I’m working to optimize our website for Google and to find more retail outlets. Finding retail outlets is the most difficult.”
Ed Puterbough, Boone Creek Creamery
Boone Creak Creamery offers more than 35 handmade, artisan cheeses. Using traditional European techniques, Boone Creek specializes in difficult-to-find Old World cheeses, giving each flavor a touch of Kentucky charm.
Favorite Tool: Hands
“Making cheese by hand makes for a better product; it protects the curd and keeps the flavor in the cheese.”
Biggest Challenge: Finding good products
“I source my milk from a Mennonite dairy. The cows are pasture-grazed and not given antibiotics or hormones, and the milk is not homogenized. Finding quality products to make quality cheese is the toughest part.”
Tammy Horn, Coal Country Beeworks
A project out of Eastern Kentucky University, Coal Country Beeworks manages hives situated on reclaimed coal mines throughout Kentucky. Goals of the project include collaborating with coal companies to plant pollinator-friendly trees on mine sites and restoring the beekeeping tradition throughout the region. This year, beekeepers managed 90 hives as part of the project and produced 600 pounds of honey. In addition, they host a winter bee school that is open to the public and, this year, began supplying queen bees to consumers.
Favorite Tool: Langstroth Hive
“For the industry, the Langstroth (moveable-frame) hive is the most important tool. Without the structure, the bees produce a natural comb, which would have to be crushed in order to get honey. Without the moveable-frame hive, there’s no honey industry.”
Biggest Challenge: Educating the public
The project, so far has been well received by the public, but they’re still working to educate. “We knew it would be a long-term project. It takes as long to grow people’s interest as it does to grow trees.”
Ouita Michel, Kentucky Specialty Sauce
Started in 2003 by Nancy Ward, Kentucky Specialty Sauces has grown from a single sauce made by hand in Ward’s kitchen to a full line of savory and sweet sauces. The newest addition to the lineup is local chef Ouita Michel’s signature bourbon mustard sauce.
Favorite Gadget: “Obviously, the knife for prepping food. I’m also a fan of the new silicone products for baking and freezing—they’re microwave safe, too, which makes them very handy. Lately, I’ve become enamored with ball jars and am working on a line of bakery products that come packaged in and can be prepared in the jars; however, the least-respected utensil in the kitchen that is my go-to tool is the melon baller—it makes really cute garnishes!”
Biggest Challenge: Managing a business
“Being a small business has been my biggest challenge to overcome. The business side is pure stress while cooking is pure bliss.”
Rick Sutton, Sutton Honey Farms
Rick Sutton and his family manage 12,000 to 15,000 bee hives throughout the year, harvesting honey and providing pollinators to farms across the country. He offers specialty honeys, such as clover honey, as well as flavored honey creams, like cinnamon-apple honey cream, strawberry honey cream and blackberry honey cream.
Favorite Gadget: Smoker
“It keeps the bees at bay when working with the hives and harvesting.”
Biggest Breakthrough: Diversification
“I’ve learned through personal experience not to do huge orders, but instead to spread out my business among many smaller customers, so that if one order falls through, it doesn’t cost me the bank. In addition to my honey business, I also pollinate almonds in California, cranberries in Wisconsin, and pumpkins and melons in Kentucky, making my business all the more dynamic.”
James Caudill, Dad’s Favorites
Making cheese spreads for friends and family garnered so many requests that James Caudill and Susan Bratton began producing it for market. Within two months of the company’s debut, 20 sales locations and two restaurants were pushing Dad’s Favorites cheese spreads to Kentucky residents. The company continues to grow its cheese spread line and has opened a restaurant, as well.
Favorite Gadget: Onion slicer/dicer and stick blender
“These are huge timesavers and make my cheese-spread prep much easier.”
Biggest Challenge: Time management
“Keeping up with customer demand has been challenging with our current processes so we’re upgrading some of our equipment to handle the larger volumes.”
Sanford Chase, Good Shepherd Cheese
Good Shepherd is Kentucky’s only source for sheep-milk cheese. The sheep are raised on 132 acres of pasture and produce healthy, natural milk that is used to make the cheese.
Favorite Gadget: Curd knife
“A curd knife pulls through the curd and is spaced for the needs of your cheese. It helps make curds the right size without knives and measuring.”
Biggest Challenge: Consumer acceptance
“Most people don’t realize you can milk a sheep, and people are unaware or even wary about trying sheep’s milk.”
Allison Davis, Wild Thyme
Allison Davis is a chef and founder of Wild Thyme, a cooking school and boutique that also provides catering for private events
Favorite Gadget: Dispenser bottle for oils and vinegar
“The spout gives me better control of measurements.”
Biggest Breakthrough: Diversification
Wild Thyme isn’t just one thing … it offer birthday parties, catering, private events, cooking classes for all ages, and is a retail kitchen boutique.
Cathy Connors, Shell-Bee’s
Shell-Bee’s produces of homemade, flavor-infused gourmet salts and spices.
Favorite Gadget: Wooden spoon
Biggest Breakthrough: Getting repeat customers
“Also, being able to develop products that customers enjoy and request. For instance, a customer had requested a ginger sugar, and so I developed Blackberry Ginger Sugar.”