So it was with great joy that I got a success story email from Ken Ruegsegger this week. Ken and his wife, Sherrie, run Paoli Local Foods, an out-of-the way local and natural foods store in tiny, unincorporated Paoli, which every summer gets inundated with bicyclists on their way to the Badger State Bicycle Trail.
I bought my first quarter side of beef from Ken four years ago -- being the farm girl that I am, I was raised on pasture-born, corn-finished Hereford/Angus beef. I thought my days of eating steak as an adult were over forever until I met Ken through the Something Special from Wisconsin program.
Ken's meat is spectacular -- he specializes in grass-fed beef and now sells his farm-raised meats at several farmer's markets and at his store in Paoli. He also carries several grass-fed, raw milk, and organic cheeses from south central Wisconsin, including: Edelweiss Graziers Cooperative grass-fed cheeses, Cedar Grove organic cheeses, Brunkow varieties, Hook's Cheese, Mt. Sterling goat cheeses and mixed-milk cheeses from Bass Lake.
TIP FOR THE LOCALS: Paoli Local Foods also carries never-refrigerated Cedar Grove FRESH CURDS on Tuesdays and Fridays -- get there before 2 p.m. or you run the chance of being too late (I know this from experience -- those bicyclists apparently eat their fair share of cheese curds while passing through).
Running a mom n' pop local food store and living your life as a sustainable, family-owned farmer can be challenging. I know Ken & Sherrie have had their fair share of challenges over the years, but today Ken reports: "Thirteen years ago, we purchased six baby calves. Today, we have 175 head of grass-fed beef. All 100 percent of these are bred & born on the farm. Without the use of hormones, antibiotics, or chemicals, we ended 2007 with a 100 percent conception rate." (For those of you not in the cow breeding business, this is almost unheard of in a herd this size).
Ken and Sherrie today are marketing 99 percent of their beef directly to the consumer (I'm guessing they eat the remaining 1 percent). The only middle man is the processor.
In addition to their beef, the Ruegseggers currently have:
- 175 egg-laying chickens and 200 more to start laying in August
- 28 lambs on pasture
- 27 pigs on pasture
- 340 meat chickens and 60 turkeys started
They are currently butchering about 120 chickens every two weeks (that equals 10 a day six days a week) -- holy chicklets, that's a lot o' work.
Ken continues: "We have just passed the one year point in our new store. We were too busy to celebrate, but we did acknowledge it amongst some of our customers that day. Thank you for supporting sustainable family farms."
No, thank you, Ken and all the farmers like you who have chosen to live your lives in a way (i.e. not get rich) to provide sustainable, quality, good-tasting food to the rest of us. Hurrah!