Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson
Bluff Country Co-op has recently started carrying several frozen meat products from Reimer’s Valley Farm, located in Trempealeau Valley, WI. I corresponded with owner Ron Reimer about his small-scale, family-centered farm.
Ron and his wife, Nan, bought their first first Guernsey cow when they were living at the Wiscoy Valley Land Co-op. She had twin heifer calves, which the Reimers brought with them to Wisconsin to become the foundation of a small dairy herd, which later morphed into a beef herd. The Reimer’s current Trempealeau County farm “has been the homestead of the Reimer family for 35 years, and the birthplace of three of our five children,” Ron tells me.
Ron wasn’t always a farmer: “Everything I know about farming we learned living and working with folks in Wiscoy Valley and from neighboring farmers in the Ettrick area. I was born a city boy and educated to be an engineer at UW Madison. Nan hails from the burbs of Atlanta.” However, farming seems to be in Ron’s blood; after all, he comes from a long line of meat producers and processors: “My family included one of the early meat processors in Green Bay in the 30′s through the 50′s, one of the original owner/sponsors of the Green Bay Packers. My great uncle Gus was the president of the board of directors of that team and sold his wieners exclusively in Packer Stadium as Reimer’s Valley Farm Wieners. His meat plant lost out to larger producers, but the reputation of his quality meats hopefully continues with our farm, named in his remembrance.”
Though they started out in dairy, the Reimers’ milk cows kept having bull calves, so “[w]hen our small milking herd lost out to Earl Butz’ “get big or get out” policies, we decided to sell beef, instead of milking cows,” Ron says. Though they started farming as much as possible with draft horses, they eventually had to switch to tractors, “one of our greatest regrets in our farming lives,” Ron laments. “It is our sincere hope that our farm and other small farms do not face the same fate in succumbing to bigness as our nine cow dairy herd and my uncle’s meat business.”
The Reimer’s farming philosophy, centered on family ties and agricultural sustainability, is unique in today’s world: “Farming for us is not making a profit, it’s a way of living, and sharing the surplus,” says Ron. The Reimers sell most of their products directly to families through farmer’s markets, The Common Market in Galesville, WI, and now BCC. Their first priority on the farm is providing their growing extended family, friends, and neighbors with real, wholesome, nourishing food, and not only is the farm meant to feed the family, but its management is very much a family affair: “Our two sons, one who lives on the farm and another who is about to build a house on the farm, are still involved part time in the farming operation and before long will be operating the farm as their parents pursue other interests including operating the Beach Corners Art Studios in Ettrick, WI and teaching, selling, playing and repairing accordions. Two of our daughters left the farm to become bakers. You may know Sally and Harmony from the Renaissance Bakery that also provides bakery for Bluff Country. Sally and her brothers [still find] time to help, come haying time.”
The Reimer’s are also fully committed to organic production: they use no GMOs (including organically acceptable BT insecticides and Rotenone), manure and high cal lime for fertilizers, and exclusively certified organic feeds. Ron tells me that, though they’re not certified organic, their organic standards were in place even before the government defined “organic” and extend past those of “certified organic,” “beyond the chemical parameters and into the spiritual, ethical and political dimensions of right livelihood.” Organic is more than a matter of chemistry and biology, Ron tells me. He argues that organic foods must be local, sustainable, and direct. “To us, bigness and organic are incompatible, because “local” does not have to be “big.” Their decision not to seek certification is based on the fact that they “would rather our customers know and trust us as people who care about what they eat and grow and sell the same food to their friends and neighbors. We offer the evidence of our healthy, happy, and successful children and grandchildren as certification.”
The Reimers’ meat is unique in that their herd was developed by crossbreeding Guernseys, whose meat is “sweet, flavorful [and] rich in carotene and omega 3 fatty acids,” with Red Angus, which produce a meatier carcass. Their cattle feed exclusively on grass, summer and winter, with the exception of young calves that get some oats and barley. Unlike most farmers, the Reimers don’t give their cows any corn or soy as they believe both substances are bad for bovine digestive systems. Their beef is butchered and processed by Ledebuhr Meats in Winona and is federally inspected. “Our cows live pretty good and long lives relative to that of commodity cattle,” says Ron, “They are not “pushed” to grow fast, and get lots of exercise, living almost entirely outside, summer and winter.”
The Reimers have a long history of involvement with the cooperative movement: “We have been involved with coops since the 60′s in Madison, Fargo, Minneapolis, La Crosse, and Winona. Nan and I were instrumental in starting Fargo’s first food coop in the early 70′s and were the first (unpaid) managers for several years before moving to Winona to help found Wiscoy Valley Land Coop,” says Ron, “We join the members of Bluff Country in the spirit of cooperation with one another and with the environment to produce a local and sustainable food source for the people in our region.” Stop by BCC to check out our exciting, new Reimer’s Valley Products!