By Meghan Scalea
It’s no secret that over the years the American public has grown increasingly interested – even skeptical – about knowing exactly where their meat comes from. So it made sense in 2011 for a young man from a Culpeper farming family to help guide his community to meat they could feel good about eating.
Several years ago, Andrew Campbell was fresh off the slopes of Colorado’s ski resorts when he returned to his family’s Croftburn Farm with a vision to help his neighbors in their quest to eat locally raised food. He had seen people lined up at the weekly farmers markets to buy naturally raised meats and knew there had to be a way to make these products available more than once a week.
Campbell opened Croftburn Market as a retail location in 2011 to sell locally raised meats direct to customers Monday through Friday. The Market, located just off route 29 on Braggs Corner Road, was chosen for its proximity to other retail outlets and those traveling to central Virginia from Washington, DC.
“A lot of downtown Culpeper is built on people coming in to visit and in for dinner and overnight, getting away from their lives in northern Virginia just as a little close vacation. That spills over to the retail side – people coming down once a week to their vacation house, or once a month they send me an email and pick up a freezer full of stuff to be filled up for a bit,” explains Campbell.
But opening a store that sells only meat seemed too limited in an age where people are used to one-stop shopping at big box stores. He stocked the Market with cheese, wines and beers, and limited local produce – the staples that complement a meat-based menu. All the elements are there to prepare a gourmet dinner or summer picnic.
Inside, a large glass display showcases beautiful cuts of red meat and sausages, and upright freezers are packed with products from local farmers and USDA cuts. Campbell and the staff behind the counter serve as meat ambassadors, helping customers fumble through questions about how much meat to buy, which cut best suits a recipe they’ve chosen, and how to prepare it.
“Meat can be intimidating,” Campbell acknowledges. “We try to create a pretty hospitable atmosphere that isn’t pretentious, and you can ask questions without feeling silly.”
The bulk of his business is pork, poultry and beef, although they also sell rabbit, goat and other novelty type meats. Campbell sources from farmers within three to four surrounding counties where he knows exactly how the animals are being raised.
“We are giving people a better product than what you can find elsewhere, and that varies product to product. For example, the local beef is not certified organic, but it’s local, so it’s coming from a place X miles from here. The animals aren’t being fed antibiotics or growth hormones like you’re finding in U.S. feedlots out west. Being exclusively organic is very, very difficult, so we tend to go for products that simply aren’t fed with additives and are as natural as possible, which means it’s not fed and finished in the normal commercial way.”
Dozens of varieties of sausage, for example, are cured in-house at Croftburn Market. They aren’t loaded with preservatives and cooked, which means it doesn’t keep as long as grocery store sausage, but the quality is better. Customers tell Campbell they like knowing it was made right there, and that’s what keeps them coming back.
The same goes for the local beef he sells. “You can see this wasn’t a steak cut a week ago and hit with gas so it will stay cherry red. People are interested in where things come from, and that’s why they come to see us.”
While the store sells some products from his family’s farm, Campbell also stocks products from more than half a dozen other local farms. He understands how little time farmers have to market their own products or attend farmers markets. He wants Croftburn Market to serve as a point of sale for the full-time farmers who have a great product but need help sharing it with others. His inventory is balanced to cater to a broad spectrum of customers ranging from those who only want locally raised grass-fed meats to those who simply want a great cut at an affordable price.
Some people still can’t fathom leaving the grocery store meat department behind to explore a privately owned butcher shop. Campbell advises first-time customers to come in and start small. “Buy a steak or ground beef we make fresh every morning before you commit to half a beef. I’m always encouraging people to cook different products side by side and see if you can taste the difference between our dry aged products and the wet aged beef you get at the grocery store. Part of the fun is finding something that works for your tastebuds.”
His no-pressure approach to meat education is something that sets customers at ease. “Meat is an investment, and you don’t want to mess that up. I try to be cognizant of whether someone wants to be told what to do and how to do it. Other customers want to do it their way, which is fine, too. We are here to help.”
Croftburn Market is located at 16178 Rogers Rd, Culpeper. www.croftburnmarket.com.