Valerie Samutin, the founder of Freedom Run Farm, embarked on a remarkable path that took her from the bustling streets of downtown Chicago to the serene pastures of rural Kentucky. Her trajectory was guided by a love for lamb and a determined mission to enhance the culinary experience surrounding this exceptional meat. Unhappy with the quality of lamb available, Valerie decided to take matters into her own hands. What began as a desire to enjoy top-tier lamb evolved into a full-fledged commitment to sustainable agriculture, a steadfast dedication to the renaissance of Kentucky’s lamb industry, and the establishment of Freedom Run Farm. In this interview, Valerie shares the mission behind Freedom Run Farm and what makes Freedom Run Farm lamb so exciting to chefs.
Q: Can you tell us about your journey and how you came to establish Freedom Run Farm?
Valerie: Absolutely. My journey to Freedom Run Farm has been quite an adventure. I set out on a mission to recreate the wonderful roasted lamb meal my husband and I had on our wedding night and to my dismay, we couldn’t find high-quality lamb. This prompted me to embark on a journey of learning about lamb shepherding from the ground up. So, after 25 years of working in downtown Chicago in real estate, we left and started our family farm in Kentucky in 2011. Starting the farm was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I had a desire to create a path to market for fellow shepherds.
Q: What inspired you to bring shepherds together and focus on lamb production?
Valerie: I wondered why lamb wasn’t more popular, and I discovered that 80% of lamb sold in the United States is imported. It can often be perceived as gamey and lamb production was inconsistent, which didn’t help its reputation. My goal was to build a brand that is committed to a premium eating experience every time, whether its in your home or in your favorite restaurant. I wanted to create a consistent, high-quality lamb product, so I embarked on a journey with farm-to-table chefs to develop a specification that would make chefs EXCITED about lamb.
Q: Can you tell us about the specifications you developed for Freedom Run Farm lamb?
Valerie: We begin an 18-month product development process with committed chefs, going back-and-forth about various breeds, grow out weights, finishing rations, etc. We knew we hit the jackpot when chefs across the board kept talking about what are now our specifications: great taste, marbleization, and generous portion size. We create these specifications by using our Appalachian heritage breed, committing to sustainable farming, and our unique finishing program. The result is a consistently high-quality and delicious lamb that chefs love.
This really is the lamb that chefs want, because they helped create it.
Our culinary-centric focus sets us apart. We aim to provide a great dining experience every time someone enjoys our lamb.
Q: How do you make lamb more approachable for diners, especially those who may find it intimidating?
Valerie: Its surprising how many people have never tried lamb but think they don’t like it, or they had a bad experience with a lesser quality product. Lamb can be introduced in various ways, and ground lamb is an excellent gateway. It’s as simple to cook as a great steak. Other options include lamb patties for burgers, lamb tartare, or incorporating ground lamb into dishes like lasagna.
I like to think of lamb as a little black dress. You can dress it up for fancy dinner party, for example, our racks, or it can be down-home barbecue in the back yard style, like our bluegrass ribs or smoked lamb shoulder. It is incredibly versatile, and the flavor range is rich, luxurious, and actually a bit decadent, like a good piece of dark chocolate can be!
You can find Freedom Run Farm lamb on the What Chefs Want website and app by searching Freedom Run. You can also search these popular lamb items by their codes below:
- Bluegrass Lamb Ribs – Item #62510
- Ground Lamb – Item #62538
- Lamb Leg Deboned – Item #62505
- Lamb Foreshank – Item #62514
- Whole Lamb – Item #62500
Q: How does sustainability play a role in the taste and quality of Freedom Run Farm lamb?
Valerie: Sustainability is closely tied to our lamb’s taste and quality. Our sheep are raised in a natural environment, which reduces stress and contributes to the excellent taste. They graze on diverse pastures, and sustainable practices help maintain the health of the land, resulting in a premium product.
We have a partnership with Land to Market based on regenerative agricultural practices. It provides a measurable way to document sustainability efforts. We believe lamb is one of the most sustainable proteins, and our commitment to this approach ensures the well-being of our land, family, and flock.
With the vertical integration of our own processing facility 2 years ago, we have final quality assurance from the pasture all the way to the plate now.
Q: How has the collaborative process with chefs contributed to the success of Freedom Run Farm?
Valerie: Collaboration with chefs has been a vital part of our success. Chefs helped create our lamb specifications, and their input remains essential. We want them to feel empowered and part of our program’s success.
The most rewarding aspect of this journey has been seeing the positive impact our program has on families and communities. We’re focused on making sure we have a living wage for our shepherds but do our best to keep prices for chefs and consumers as low and competitive as possible. I want to keep it affordable because the more people eating great lamb the better!
Knowing that we are supporting local shepherds, providing a premium product that chefs love, and contributing to sustainable agriculture is incredibly fulfilling. It’s a journey that brings together passion, quality, and a shared commitment to excellence.
Q: What are your goals for the future of Freedom Run Farm?
Valerie: Our Freedom Run Farm consortium was born in Kentucky, but now has grown to source from multiple regions throughout the U.S. Our goal is to keep growing our program and reaching more regions. As our program grows, we aim to work with more shepherds who share our commitment to quality and sustainability.
We want to continue providing a consistent, high-quality product while ensuring that shepherds are paid a living wage. We’re passionate about making great lamb accessible to as many people as possible.