Karen Overton of Wedge Oak Farm
KAREN OVERTON of Wedge Oak Farm doesn’t make just run-of-the-mill sausage. Her bold flavors and interesting ingredients are found nowhere else.
When we pulled up to Wedge Oak Farm this past June, we encountered ducks, geese and chickens strutting around like they “owned the place.” And they sort of do, as they’re the livelihood of proprietor, farmer and sausage maker, Karen Overton. It had just rained and they were in heaven as the rain brings all sorts of good things to eat to the surface of the grounds. The first thing to know about Karen: she treats her animals with love, based on the philosophy that, “if we’re going to eat them, they should have had a good life and been treated kindly.” And this goes for all of Karen’s animals, including her pigs and sheep.
Karen Overton didn’t intend to be a sausage maker and hog farmer. She studied at MTSU and worked as an archaeologist for 11 years, traveling around the country. Tired of traveling she went back to school for museum studies at University of Memphis. This led her to New York where she worked with several artists and galleries helping to install art works. She loved it, but unfortunately it too, included lots of travel (global this time). In April 2008 after a trip to Brazil, she returned home to the family farm in Lebanon for a visit. At that point, her parents were concerned about the future of the farm and themselves. It was then Karen decided to come home and try her hand at farming. She gave herself three years.
And her sausage is no ordinary sausage. First off, Karen is committed to all natural products. She uses no fillers, no chemicals, and no nitrites, and she makes it all herself. She sends all of her animals to a USDA certified processor who sends back the parts and pieces that she butchers, sells and uses in her handmade sausage. The day we visited, she and sidekick Brian Ferrell, were making “Potsticker Sausage” just one of the many flavors they produce. It was made from pork, green onions, ginger, garlic and soy sauce. It was mixed up in a large tub, then put through the meat grinder, not much different than the meat grinder your grandmother might have used. All of Karen’s flavors are a bit unexpected but irresistible sounding. There’s “Orange is the New Duck” made with fermented black beans, garlic chives, orange, and duck. “For Duck’s Sake,” made with red wine, garlic and duck, “Nashville Hot Chicken,” “Tikka Turkey,” and “French Meatloaf,” to name a few. We left with a package of Fig Honey Sausage, which promptly got sautéed and mixed up with pasta, swiss chard, kale and Burrata cheese. Hooray for fresh sausage.
At that point, Karen had never farmed—not really. Her family has owned the farm since 1904 when her Grandparents purchased it and raised chickens and dairy cows. Her parents worked on the farm a bit, but both had full time jobs off the farm. So when Karen returned, it was “lushly overgrown.” She started by growing organic vegetables, and her first year she picked green beans for almost 21 hours. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a market for her vegetables. Tayst restaurant (which closed in 2012) wanted chickens and eggs, so she added those. She found she loved raising chickens, so she added pigs, cattle, ducks, geese and guineas. Her pigs are called Mangalistas and are of Hungarian Royalty. They’re up to 70% fat and like the green beans, she found herself with massive amounts of pork fat without a market. She decided to make her own sausage and now has a new commercial kitchen on the farm where she can make and store her sausage.
SAUSAGE, MEAT & EGG CSA
Karen offers a variety of CSA options with sausage, meat, chicken and eggs. For more information, go to wedgeoakfarm.com
Wedge Oak Farm Lebanon, TN 615-766-3773 • @wedgeoakfarm