All in the Family: J.L. Kennedy Meat Stand
As the lights of Cranberry Township start to fade from view, the roads of Valencia get windier and dip lower. Cruising around a bend, I’m greeted by a cluster of auburn cows, huddled by a tree in a nearby clearing. A few miles further, more cows gather on the other side of the road. It’s clear that I’m in Kennedy country.
The frontrunners of the J.L. Kennedy Meat Stand for 14 years, John and Valarie Kennedy raise and sell all cuts of poultry, beef, pork, and lamb — a practice five generations in the making. When their 20 to 25 beef cattle, pigs, lambs, chukar partridges, and pheasants need more space than their farm’s 10 acres, the livestock are welcome to venture onto the additional 400 acres rented within the Kennedy family. “We’re fortunate to have those connections through the family,” Valarie says. “And, if our livestock isn’t the proper age, we know we can use some for our cousins’ or our neighbors’, and they’ll still reach our standards. Those relationships don’t happen over night; it takes years of trust.”
All sales take place at the Farmers’ Market Cooperative of East Liberty, where connections with dedicated customers are reinforced and introductions with new customers are established. “Since my kids are the fifth generation in that same location, which we took over from my in-laws, Jim and Rita Kennedy, the customer group has been like a family to us,” Valarie says. “We’re really proud of that bond and the openness that we have with our customers.”
New buyers approach the stand every week, interested to hear about the products, and the trials and tribulations on the farm. Valarie’s daily tasks include working the phone; booking sessions at their game bird hunting reserve, Four Seasons Game Bird Farm; scheduling meat pick-ups and deliveries; and coordinating the business’ public relations. John does most of the physical labor, which entails directly caring for the livestock. Their children — Jacob, 15; Taylor, 13; and Mayson, 8 — do a little bit of everything.
Getting to know the group on a personal level makes us more appreciative of everything that goes in to making their products ready for purchase. And, even if you don’t hear the stories or see their beef cattle’s championship prizes, there’s a big reason new customers quickly turn into repeat customers. “They say, ‘I just have to come back because I’ve never eaten anything like this on a local level,’” Valarie says. “That’s what makes us proud.”
The taste of the USDA-inspected, chemical-free beef begins with a unique vegetative feed. Molasses, beet pulp, and cotton seed are mixed into the typical standard serving of shelled corn. Plenty of pastures are available to supplement their diets, and some of the cattle are exclusively grass fed. These feedings have a higher priority than the Kennedy family’s own meals. “We put their needs before ours,” Valarie says. “We have concern for the animals’ welfare at all times.”
The children walk amongst the cattle and care for the piglets daily. The hands-on interactions increase the animals’ comfort and decrease their fear, which shines through in their attitudes and behaviors. Even as I chat with Valarie, Taylor, and Mayson inside the property’s gaming lodge, the muffled sounds of their voices are enough to bring the cattle around to the fence. From there, they wait to greet John and Jacob when they return from baseball practice.
Being so close with the residents of the farm — those in flannel and those in fur — is one of the most rewarding parts for Valarie. “We are the beef Kennedy legacy,” she says. “That even goes back to the type of cattle we have, an Irish mix called Beef Shorthorn. There’s a lot of different types of cattle out there, and they’re all very good. But, it makes it personal when it’s been in your family heritage for five generations that way. It’s special.”
As Pittsburgh foodies continue to search for chemical-free beef and celebrate all things local, the J.L. Kennedy Meat Stand is proud to contribute. “Eating healthy, non-processed meat may be trending right now,” John says. “But, that’s what we grew up eating. We want to continue to promote that with our kids.”
“That’s just how it should be,” Valarie adds. “It’s a human need to prepare your own food as much as you can. Making sure you have a good meal and you know where it came from should be a top priority. After that, everything else falls into place.”