BY JEANETTE HURT | PHOTOS BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
Bryce Riemer always loved his family’s historic farmhouse in Brodhead, Wis., but he didn’t see a future in farming. While he was working as a guidance counselor and his wife, Jen, was working as a track coach in Crystal Lake, Ill., they bought a quarter of beef from his father that changed everything. Eight years ago, they moved back to Wisconsin, and today they’re the third generation to run a full-time, regenerative farm with their three daughters: Elli, 13, Kalena, 11, and Caroline, 5. They also make monthly runs to two neighborhood drop-offs to deliver their eggs, chicken, beef, pork and lamb directly to customers in Wauwatosa and Whitefish Bay. Bryce and Jen took time off from delivering their meats to talk with MKE Lifestyle.
Tell us how you got started.
Jen: Bryce really had dreams of living in our house, but he didn’t want to grow crops and sell cattle at a livestock auction. But then we learned we could farm in a different way – that we could take care of the land and we could direct market to customers. We decided to move back and actually farm and make a go of it.
How did that happen?
Jen: We got a quarter of beef, and we split it with some friends. They loved it, and a couple of other people loved it, and we just started selling halves and quarters. Pretty soon, half the school was buying, and we didn’t even live at the farm yet. We realized we have the kind of personalities where we could sell directly to people. Then, we read books and went to the MOSES Organic (Farming) Conference, and there, we realized there were actually people raising things in a sustainable way and direct marketing to their customers.
Preparation: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a paring knife, cut a slit in each date and remove pits. Take about 1 ounce of sausage, form into a ball and wrap date around sausage. The date will not go all the way around. Wrap a strip of bacon around the date and sausage. Lay each date into glass baking dish with the bacon seam down. Bake in a glass dish for 35 to 40 minutes. Take to any party and instantly become the most popular person in the room!
What would you like people to know about your farm?
Bryce: The most important thing is we want people to know that our animals are treated humanely and with respect, and our products are high quality. They taste good. Those are the two things people are most concerned about. We also want people to know that we are farming because we care about the land. We want to protect the soil, and we want people to know that we strive every day to raise our animals in a way that not only respects them, but that also enhances the soil, the ecosystem our farm is a part of, and that we want to provide healthy protein to people.
Jen: Our cattle are 100 percent grass-finished. There’s a big difference between grass-fed and grass-finished. All cattle are grass-fed at some point, but the vast majority is finished on grains. What people need to look for is 100 percent grass-fed or grass-finished because that means they’ve never had grain in their lives.
What about winter?
Jen: In winter we do feed hay and store some forages, but we have a hayfield now, and our future goal is to stockpile grazing where you let some of your pasture grow, and you don’t let your cattle graze it during the growing season. Then, it freezes, and it’s basically hay standing in the ground, and they can still go and eat that through December. After that, then you take hay bales out. Cattle are really hardy. They have a shelter, but they choose to be outside most of winter unless it’s really nasty.
Bryce: We are not certified organic, and we’ve gone back and forth about getting certified, but that would add extra costs that we’d have to pass on to our customers. We have an open-door policy, and we feel that by selling directly to our customers it’s less necessary. We aim to be regenerative, which is a step beyond organic. Our goal is to regenerate the soil to have healthier pastures and healthier animals. That way we are doing the best thing for our land and for our customers.
Tell us about your direct marketing.
Bryce: We want to partner directly with people so they can have a relationship with the farmers who are producing their food. They can ask questions, learn. We want to be able to get to know our customers. We’re excited to be able to go directly to our customers. We don’t have to depend on farmers markets or on the weather.
You have two sites in the Milwaukee area right now, but you’re looking for more hosts. What does that entail?
Jen: Being a host site is super low commitment – it’s basically just letting us show up once a month and use your driveway for a half hour every six weeks. People preorder their meats and eggs on our website, then come pick up at the site. Hosts get 10 percent off every order. People can sign up on our website, riemerfamilyfarm.com. We’d love to have more sites in Milwaukee and Waukesha. A Meat and Greet is where we meet potential customers, and they get to try our products.
Can your customers visit your farm?
Jen: We love having visitors, and the Soil Sisters Weekend, (which is) the first weekend in August, is a great time for people to come out and tour the farm. There are a wide range of events, dinners and workshops.