Doing the Right Things

From weekend-long parties to regenerative farming practices, Home Place Pastures reminds us all to care

Photography by Stacey Greenberg

I found Home Place Pastures back in 2019, when a friend of mine invited me to drive five hours north, deep into Mississippi, to attend some sort of hog and blues party. I had been living in New Orleans for about a year and had just started cooking professionally. My time at the Home Place Pastures Hill Country Boucherie and Blues Picnic that year—the last one we saw before the pandemic—changed my perception of food and agriculture forever.

I was new to the South, new to understanding food and food systems. I was seeing Home Place meat all over the city, on menus, in walk-in refrigerators where I gathered my mise en place before service. I took work off that weekend and booked an Airbnb, a decision that steered me toward a lifelong investment in food and one of my favorite places on Earth.

Home Place Pastures is a small, regenerative meat farm in Northern Mississippi, just shy of an hour south of Memphis. There is a magic that dances about the farm—a pastoral serenity akin to that of a bygone era. Nestled beside Sardis Lake and the humid and striking Mississippi woods that surround it, the farm is built seamlessly into the habitat from which it came.

A vertically integrated operation, Home Place produces and sells their meat directly to restaurants and individuals. Their party, the Hill Country Boucherie and Blues Picnic,  usually takes place on a late-summer weekend at the farm. Chefs are invited from all over the Southeast to compete in a cooking competition in the form of a dinner service, where guests eat, drink, enjoy live music, and vote on their favorite dishes of the night.

Since Marshall Bartlett took over the farm in 2014, his regenerative farming practices have sewed Home Place a unique stitch in the fabric of the meat industry. He treats his farm like an ecosystem.

“Farmers have always had to be conservationists because they’re drawing their living from the soil,” says Bartlett, the fifth-generation operator of the family farm.

“A rule on the farm was always, ‘No waste.’ Waste isn’t good. It means you’re not managing things properly.”

By raising cows, chickens, and pigs alongside perennial, native grasses, Home Place achieves a closed-loop system where livestock can graze year-round without polluting local watersheds or destroying local habitats.

“We’re trying to create a system that changes the livestock industry in the South, that gives animals and producers dignity, that raises the bar for the standard of animal products,” says farm manager Christopher Peterson.

In the South, where meat is so integral to culinary traditions, it’s easy to take what we consume for granted. The commercial meat-processing industry has removed the consumer so far from the product’s source that sometimes we dissociate what we are eating from where it came.

At the Boucherie, consumers are invited to celebrate the animals that bring them sustenance, community, and cultural identity. Being there, in it all, is a reminder of something so familiar, something thought to be lost long ago.

After my first encounter with the farm in 2019, it was another three years before Home Place threw another party. After a lengthy break during the pandemic, the Como, Mississippi-based farm announced it would finally welcome guests back to its property for the seventh rendition of its acclaimed Boucherie in August 2022. I had just moved to Memphis, and the news felt serendipitous to hear. I had to go back.

“There was something sweeter about this time,” says Bartlett, the farm’s co-founder and CEO. “It was just so nice to be back together with everyone.”

In 2022, 17 chefs from three states and over 400 guests attended the dinner. The cheers and celebration were lively, and the joy of being back to Home Place after so long was palpable.

“We didn’t drive all the way to North Mississippi to work hard, so we made a cold dish so that we could spend the most time in the lake and cold tub and the least amount of time working,” says Nathan Barfield, a Boucherie regular and chef de cuisine of Turkey and the Wolf in New Orleans. Their dish this year was a lettuce cup of braised pork cheeks, citrus, and herbs.

The thing about it is, it ain’t just a party. It’s an experience, especially if you decide to camp. I got there Friday afternoon to set up shop before dark in a tree-rimmed clearing adjacent to the farm store. Inside, Johnny Cass, Home Place’s new chef, showcased his own small but mighty restaurant to the crowd, slinging pork-themed delights with, of course, ingredients from the farm.

The weekend started early, with live music and drinks at dusk, lending itself to dancing in the moonlight and intermittently slinking back to the tent cooler for a refill. The following morning, campers gathered back at the store for Vice & Virtue coffee and breakfast, followed by a day of leisure before the big dinner. A quaint farm turned into a de facto playpen of adventure, filled with small tours, nature walks, dock-diving into the pond, and hoisting cold beer cans above the warm surface.

It’s hard to describe Home Place if you’ve never spent much time on a farm out in the country. There is a spirit murmuring within it that makes it special. It is tangible, and it walks with you, bringing to life every color, every serene scent and sound, every animal and person there. It makes you appreciate that which you take for granted—the natural minutiae your eyes flicker past every other day, except today.

The name “Boucherie” is derived from a small-time Cajun cookout tradition in the region. “The boucherie is really the Cajun way of celebrating the harvest of an animal,” Bartlett says. “Families in rural communities would feed their hogs on food scraps and vegetable waste for the year, because those hogs were like a garbage disposal. But instead of wasting that, you’re building pork.”

At Cajun boucherie parties, nothing went to waste; Acadian agricultural families couldn’t afford to waste. They would use the whole hog to feed their families after the harvest in November.

“They’d make chitlins from the intestines, they’d make cracklins from the skin, they’d smoke and salt the meat to use through the winter,” Bartlett says.

“These things are part of survival, but they’re also important parts of rural culture—to get together and celebrate.”

This revelry of rural, agricultural life inspired Bartlett to recreate it on a grander scale—a revival with an eco-social statement.

“We came up with this event where we get all these chefs, who we sell meat to, to come out here,” Bartlett says. “We assign them an odd cut to challenge them to use old recipes and techniques to make delicious food out of often overlooked and under-utilized parts of the animal.”

Chefs have only a few weeks to plan their dish, which can include the likes of pig ear, beef heart, or pork trotter.

“We got pig’s feet this year,” says Brad McCarley, head chef of Salt | Soy in Memphis. “We boned it out and stuffed it to make zampone. We made a nice trotter stock and made a tonkatsu ramen out of it.”

While it’s rare to see these “lesser” cuts on fancier menus these days, chefs who participate in the Boucherie are whittling away at the organ taboo, underscoring the versatility and flavors that can be unlocked within offal.

“We wanted to bring something that would shine, something that we were proud of,” says Harrison Downing, one-third of Memphis burger pop-up Secret Smash Society.

The self-proclaimed “Patty Daddies” shot like cupid with their dish: a yakitori-style pig heart—double-brined, skewered, and grilled—seasoned with a honey-jujube tare sauce and served over smoked cauliflower puree with a scallion salad and everything bagel chili crisp. It won them first place in the cookoff.

“To hear our name called in first—it was an insane feeling,” says Schulyer O’Brien, who was part of the winning team. It was their first time competing together at the Boucherie.

The care taken by each chef, each restaurant, to make their given ingredient shine can serve as a metaphor for the farm itself: that with enough attention, the things that typically just pass through our minds can change them completely.

The after-party kicked off shortly after dinner, with local bands kicking out blues at the barn-turned-stage, including a tribute to a recently departed friend of the farm and Como community.

“Reverend [John] Wilkins, my dear friend who is the pastor of Hunter’s Chapel Church—who played every party we ever had—died of Covid,” says Bartlett. “It was really special to have his daughters [The Wilkins Sisters] play here to carry him on to the next generation.”

Of the many things we lost the past two years, one was the ability to share a meal together. When, finally, we were allowed it back, it felt all that much more important.

“Things seemed a little less wild, a little more calm—but a little more genuine,” says Bartlett. “There was just something sweeter about this year.”

Looking to the future of the Boucherie and the farm, Bartlett is hopeful about Home Place Pastures, both as a business and as a beacon of change and education in the agriculture industry of the South.

“We really want this to be a hub for learning about this type of agriculture and learning where our food comes from,” says Bartlett. “It’s so critical for the quality of our food, our environment, our watershed, and our rural economy.

If you’re going to be an environmental eater, the only way to really do that is to source meat from a regenerative farm.”

In every avenue Bartlett has taken to expand his ventures, from the farm store to CSA boxes, he has done so with heart—with the forefront intention of improving the livelihood of people and animals. The bond that we share with the animals we raise is sanguine and sacred. To consume them is to take in the product of our own effort, our own care, our own lives. Leaving behind a weekend at Home Place, I find myself wondering how we could ever not treat them, and the earth we use to nourish them, with the same patience and respect we do ourselves.

“Obviously, with the way the world is going, the more sustainable practices we adopt and support, the better off we’ll be,” says Barfield, of Turkey and the Wolf. “Home Place is certainly one of those companies doing the right things, and it’s great to be a part of the Boucherie and support them.”

As our restaurant landscape seems to become trendier with each passing year, the term “farm-to-table” seems to grow triter. Buzzwords like “sustainable” and “local” are more often used for little more than fluff—empty bells fluttering noiselessly about our heads. In a world of talk, Home Place Pastures doesn’t walk—it runs. The earnest transparency and compassion through which Bartlett operates his business should stand as a model for all who participate in our food system. That means all of us.

I’m lucky to have Home Place in my life. Each time I get to go back means another opportunity to learn, another chance to celebrate, another reminder of how important it is to give a damn.

Home Place Pastures

Joshua Carlucci is a Memphis transplant by way of California, New Orleans, and New York City. He’s a former professional cook, an MFA candidate in creative writing, and a queer advocate at OUTMemphis. When he’s not working or writing, he’s probably eating, exploring the outdoors, playing with his cat, or some combination of all three.

Stacey Greenberg is the editor in chief of Edible Memphis. You can follow her at @nancy_jew.