There was a time when Jamie Smith-Johnson doubted she’d end up helping run her family’s butcher shop, where she had worked since the eighth grade.
But after taking a break from college to travel in Europe, she soon realized where she belonged.
“Over there, the food was so important, and the food was so valued,” she said.
Her turning point came in Greece, where she recalls a butcher in a grocery store breaking down a whole lamb, a sight that has become increasingly rare as many supermarkets have opted for the ease and efficiency of pre-cut meat.
It was a culture she wanted to help cultivate back home, and so she returned to Bluescreek Farm Meats in Columbus’s North Market. The business was founded by her parents David and Cheryl Smith, and her brother now helps run the family’s Union County farm.
Smith-Johnson found she wasn’t alone in her desire to reconnect with food. More customers were starting to seek out local products, and many wanted to know just how their meal arrived from farm to plate. A couple of years ago, 500 Bluescreek customers attended an on-farm ox roast and potluck.
“Being able to come to the farm and actually see it for the first time was incredible,” Smith-Johnson said.
She also points to a turnaround in how people view the profession of butchery. Customers have become more comfortable confronting the idea of raising animals for meat and have gained higher respect for the process.
In fact, many are taking a hands-on approach.
On some days, it begins in the basement of the North Market where they help heft primal cuts of beef or half of a hog out of a truck coming from the slaughterhouse.
It’s part of Bluescreek’s Butcher for a Day program, where individuals pay $250 to spend several hours cutting meat with personal guidance from David, a master butcher.
The business also has offered classes on beef cuts, breaking down a hog and sausage making but has found the one-on-one sessions easiest to manage.
Reviews of the Butcher for a Day experience have been unequivocally positive, Smith-Johnson said, with some participants returning to repeat the program.
“David wants to make sure that you’re doing things that you’re not going to do on your own when you’re buying a small piece of meat,” she said. “It really is focused on what the Butcher for a Day is looking to get out of it.”
At the end of the day, students leave with a cut of meat perfectly matched to their own tastes.
Smith-Johnson acknowledged that, at first, the family was hesitant to take on this extra work. Between farming and managing their retail site, “We don’t have the time. We don’t have the energy. We don’t have the space,” she recalled.
But soon they began to recognize just how high the demand was for this type of education.
“I’ve had people call me from Colorado. I’ve had people call me from New York,” she said.
At the same time, it became apparent that many had grown up with little to no knowledge of how to prepare their own food from scratch, let alone where it comes from.
“There was a huge gap of people who did not know how to cook,” she notes. “A lot of the educational gap wasn’t just on the cooking side: it was on the ingredient side.”
But she’s happy to walk customers through any questions they have — from how the family raises livestock to new ideas on preparing a favorite dish.
“As far back as I can remember, my parents always tried to really inform people,” she said. “The point is for them to walk away and feel like they’ve got the right cut for them.”
Note: Bluescreek Farm Meats is on Instagram.