Serving up local from the county fair

County fair animal auctions provide opportunities for chefs to purchase local beef, chicken, rabbit, pork and lamb while supporting youth.

Local farm to table at the Lowell Fair. Photo credit: Brad Teachout l MSU Extension
Local farm to table at the Lowell Fair. Photo credit: Brad Teachout l MSU Extension

Brad Teachout, Director of Operations for the Essence Group of Restaurants, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said he would return to the Kent County Youth Fair’s Animal Auction for the second year in a row.  The Essence Group owns some of Grand Rapids’ most well known farm-to-table restaurants – Bistro Bella Vita, Grove and The Green Well. Teachout believes chefs from farm-to-table restaurants should consider attending county fair animal auctions and purchasing meat raised by youth on local farms.

“I took my kids to the auction last year and we bought a beef steer for our restaurants from two local girls who participate in a 4-H Club. This year, we hope to expand our purchases to include pork and lamb in addition to beef. This is a great event and we enjoy supporting future agriculturalists, “ said Teachout.

The Kent County Youth Fair website has a special page dedicated to the August 7, 2014 animal auction prospective buyers available. The page explains the auction schedule with small animals auctioned first, how to submit a bid without being present, and how to send the meat to a processing facility. Restaurants are required to use a USDA inspected meat processing facility and Chefs can work directly with the processing facility to determine the cuts of meat desired.

Teachout said they noted the source of beef on their menu, which customers usually appreciate. Locally sourced meats and seafood topped the list of the 2014 most important restaurant trends according to a chef survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association.

Almost every county in Michigan has a youth fair and an animal auction. To find one in your county visit the Michigan Association of Fairs and Exhibitions website or conduct an Internet search for your specific county or the counties that are close to you. Animal auctions and fairs are open to all, not just county residents.

Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems educators, based in Grand Rapids, are in the process of compiling a list of chefs/restaurants in West Michigan who would like to be contacted by County Youth Fair participants about purchasing meat from a fair animal auction. For more information about this project, please contact Kendra Wills at 616-608-7424 or

July and August are the most common months for county youth fairs in Michigan. If you are interested in attending a fair in your community, be sure to act quickly to find out the date and location of fairs close to you.

Did you find this article useful?