During our travels through western Kentucky back in March, we were on a drive down a two-lane highway, when we passed a house with a sign out front that said “Mammaw’s Kitchen.” The two of us were hungry, and this seemed particularly fitting for our search for artisanal enterprises. So, although this wasn’t on our planned agenda, we pulled in.
Mammaw’s Kitchen was a restaurant in the fenced in back porch of this house, with meals coming out of the kitchen. But what we stepped into, aside from the chance to have taco salad alongside some other weary travelers who had happened upon the place between this place and that, was a fantastic case study in what the portfolio artisanal enterprise looks like.
James Beckner and Robin Harden started their business with a carriage riding business, as a way to find an inventive future for James’ family farm. The business—Rock’n B Farm—took off, between giving carriage rides in downtown Bowling Green, the biggest city in the region, as well as small town festivals, Christmas gatherings, and other events.
Their site lists an expansive number of ways their carriage rides might be utilized. They include the expected, like parades, historical tours, church fundraisers, company picnics, and marriage proposals (“Say ‘I DO’ in the carriage,” the website says); the somewhat unexpected, like prom, demonstrations, family reunions); and the unexpected, from funeral processions to movie productions.
But James and Robin weren’t content to leave things be with just a carriage business.
The farm itself eventually became a focus point, and the ways in which they’ve grown the business to encourage visits out to the farm has continued to grow. They have an expansive Christmas lights display and range of activities during the holiday season, as well as family sleigh rides during snow. They hold a massive Easter egg hunt on the farm. During the right time of year, they have a corn maze.
Their business includes occasional “Cowboy Famous ‘Firepit to Pan’ Dinners on the farm. And they host seasonal events like Valentine’s Day and Fall Festival; outdoor weddings; and suggest events the farm as a venue for events ranging from school “pioneer days” and motivational retreats to church bible school events. Currently, they’re planning a big camping shindig for the August 21, 2017, eclipse on their farm.
This is a true portfolio operation, and James and Robin are quite enterprising at the number of ways they might find ways to make their family farm operation and their horses relevant to the community around them, and sustainably profitable as a business.
For instance, they’ve hosted vendors on Saturdays at the farm (which is located in Rockfield, Kentucky, population 1,676. And they are opening up an ongoing farm store and market on the site in September.
Mammaw’s is another one of the latest additions to the business—driven by a desire to serve the local rural community around them on a regular basis, give people driving by an opportunity to step into all they have to offer, and give a reason to people who come out for a special event reason to come back more frequently.
James was quite the host as we and the other travelers enjoyed lunch at Mammaw’s, as this clip demonstrates. But he’s not the face at the center of the Rock’N B farm. He and Robin want to give that spotlight to their animals—not just the horses, but particularly Lacey, the “world’s friendliest farm dog.”
As James describes in the clip, Lacey has become a celebrity in her own right—a favorite of the local TV station in Bowling Green, which surely gives James access to more frequent appearances on the show. And Lacey of course comes along for some of the downtown carriage rides.
When the two of us visited Mammaw’s, she was the gracious host welcoming us to the property.
And, in case you’re wondering, according to the site, “Lacey is available for appearances, photography sessions, commercials, movies, birthdays, weddings, and health care facilities.”
Here, the marketing of the portfolio businesses feed into one another. You as customer can easily find yourself pulled into wanting to support the ingenuity of the sheer number of ways James and Robin are working at finding ways to make their family farm relevant to the community around them. (In fact, they also offer on their site opportunities to make donations to the farm, as well as to advertise.) And Lacey and the other animal characters of the farm become parts of that story—through-lines that may pull you from seeing them on TV or experiencing them at an event and getting pulled into what they’re doing on the farm.
What Rock’n B presents to you as a brand is not a fully realized business that claims it knows its final shape. No, it is American hustle on display, with a deep dose of humility and the emotionally resonant mission of keeping family farms relevant.
And that dog is pretty damn cute, too.