August 27, 2021
The entrepreneur behind Laura’s Lean Beef has launched an inspiring second act
By KEVIN NANCE
The story of Laura Freeman’s second act begins with a horse. On May 19, 2005, the eponymous founder of Laura’s Lean Beef was out for a ride on her 1500-acre estate, Mt. Folly Farm, when her horse spun her off. Freeman, then a competitive event rider who had recently returned from a meet, landed hard and suffered a traumatic brain injury. She was air-lifted to the University of Kentucky Hospital and later spent months at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital relearning how to swallow, walk, talk, type and perform other basic tasks.
Freeman knew she couldn’t run an operation as large and complex as Laura’s Lean Beef anymore — in part because, aside from the rehab challenges, she was in near constant pain.
“There was just no way,” she said in a recent interview at the farm. “When I would go into the office to try to sell the company, I’d shut the door and lay down on the floor, because the pain was so bad.”
But that closed door, as is the way of things, opened another. The solution to her pain turned out to be CBD oil extracted from hemp. “The first time I tried it, it didn’t work,” recalls Freeman, now 64. “But after I got the right type and the right dosage, boom! The full-body pain went away in a week. CBD helped my recovery tremendously. And I said, ‘Good lord, we want to grow this.’ ”
It was a eureka moment that — after a protracted recovery, during which Freeman sold Laura’s Lean Beef, moved to Martha’s Vineyard, and pondered retirement — finally set into motion another entrepreneurial chain of events that continues to this day.
“There’s a big difference between cattle grazed locally and rotationally and cattle trucked to huge feed lots in Kansas, with thousands of animals per square mile.”
Returning to Mt. Folly Farm, which has been in Freeman’s family for several generations, she and her daughter, Alice Melendez, planted their first hemp crop in 2014, just after it became legal in Kentucky. Now the farm’s umbrella corporation, Mt. Folly Enterprises, markets an increasingly popular line of USDA certified products, sold primarily through Freeman’s e-commerce website.
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