Bye-son: Georgetown Farm closes shop
Forget the thundering roar of bison hooves on the open plain. There was nary a whisper when Georgetown Farm closed its store at Albemarle Square on March 13 and soon after stopped supplying its lean beef and buffalo to local stores and restaurants.
What happened? For the opening of this Central Virginia business run by international activist and former Seagram's owner Edgar Bronfman Sr., Governor Mark Warner helped cut the ribbon in December 2002.
Farm spokesman Matt Albert did not return the Hook's repeated calls by press time, but local meat-sellers say they got word last month that they'd have to go elsewhere for their cuts of beef and bison.
"They just came to us with a delivery and said, "This is it," reports a source at Whole Foods, who says that providing his name would violate company policy.
Rebecca's natural food store's grocery manager Bill Calvani says his store received a letter which said something like, "We regret to inform you that we can no longer supply you with our products." Calvani adds he was surprised by the sudden change: "They were listed as top-selling in California and had just been picked up by a big distributor."
That distributor, says Calvani, is Tree of Life, a subsidiary of the Dutch monolith Koninklijke Wessanen and the largest organic food distributor in the world, according to business tracking website Hoovers.com.
While Tree of Life reps did not return the Hook's calls by deadline, a woman in Georgetown's Madison, Va., operation bristled at a reporter's questions regarding the operation north of town.
"You'd better get your facts straight," she said, noting that the Buffalo Hill abattoir, or slaughterhouse, is still in operation. The letter to stores, she said, explained that Georgetown meats were still available to anyone who wished to travel to Madison to pick them up.
For further information, she directed calls to New York-based farm consultant Sandra Stern, a Curry School grad now employed by Citigroup Private Bank.
Stern did not return the Hook's calls by deadline, but she faxed a brief press release on Monday, April 5, announcing that "Buffalo Hill will be downsizing their operations over the next three months." The release cites the closing of the Georgetown Farm Market store, but assures that the Buffalo Hill Market will continue to operate in Madison.
According to a 2003 article on UVA's website, Stern is a prominent figure in agricultural consulting, having created a strategic plan for John Kluge's farm Morven.
Is Georgetown simply rethinking the wisdom of operating a 4,000-square-foot retail shop, or will its buffaloes be set free to roam?
In 2002, company officials told the Hook about Georgetown West, a 5,200-acre ranch in Oklahoma, home to more than 2,000 bison and 1,000 head of cattle. In 2002, Georgetown officials said, the Madison operation would slaughter over 10,000 head of bison and cattle per year.
The Hook was unable to obtain updated information about those plans.
Karl Keller, whose family purchased Crozet's Mount Air Farm in 1978 where they planned to raise cattle, says he's seen a slight bump up in business since Georgetown cut back.
"We're getting a lot of new customers at the Beef Barn," he says of his onsite store.
However, Carter Gooding, the Orange County entrepreneur who bills himself as the "Bison Chef" and supplies Las Vegas restaurants and casinos with bison meat, calls Georgetown's downsizing bad news.
"I'm very sorry to see them go," says Gooding. "They were out there promoting bison."
Will the buffalos still roam at 1,000-acre Georgetown Farm?
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
Georgetown Farm Market opened December 13, 2002. FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO