Brooks Grain is a proud Partnership Sponsor of the Derby Diversity Business Summit. Erica Fields has been in the business of supplying grain to Kentucky distillers since the ‘70s, so the certified LGBT Business Enterprise’s recent move to the Derby City makes sense.
“My father had been in the business since the mid ‘50s supplying the distilling industry with rye, and with corn, and with malting barley,” said Fields, who started her own career in 1978. Erica later supplied oats for thoroughbreds. It’s hard to believe the company, originally headquartered in Minnesota, hasn’t been in Louisville all along.
In the distilling industry, Erica says, “Business flows naturally.” People know each other. She remembers the downturn of the late ‘70s. Bourbon wasn’t the coveted commodity it is today. “It was an interesting time for me,” she said. “These people, like Jimmy Russell, Booker Noe, and Parker Beam, his son Craig -- these family distillers -- I got to know them. They weren’t famous yet.”
Brooks Grain is in the process of opening a Louisville mill, right by Consolidated Grain & Barge’s elevator which has been going great guns since the post-prohibition boom in the ‘30s. Craft distilling has given Brooks Grain the ability to cater to and help new distillers build their flavors. The future looks bright.
“I had been in the industry for years, and it wasn’t always as male-dominated as it had been.” The moment was ripe for Erica’s daughter, Cara, to take the reins and be the face of the company momentarily while Erica Fields put her time and attention toward living her fullest life as a woman.
“When I came out, I sent a heartfelt letter to everybody,” said Erica. She thought a more traditional company like Jack Daniels in rural Tennessee would be slower to accept her. “They were all great. I knew all of them for 30 years. They were the ones who approached me and said, ‘Hey. Have you thought about becoming a certified LGBT-owned business?’”
Cara has begun her own distilling business, but the third generation is still represented with the addition of Erica’s nephew, Nick Nessan. This will be Erica’s 8th Kentucky Derby, and she and her wife will celebrate it in style as part of the Derby Diversity Business Summit. “It’s a great opportunity for diverse businesses and suppliers to meet at an incredibly fun time in Louisville,” she said.