Iowa Public Television

 

Illinois farm family direct markets poultry products

posted on May 26, 2000


A FEDERAL JUDGE IN TEXAS HAS THROWN OUT A TESTING PROGRAM TO DETECT SALMONELLA CONTAMINATION IN GROUND BEEF AT PROCESSING PLANTS. THE JUDGE RULED THE USDA TEST DOESN'T FAIRLY EVALUATE WHETHER A PLANT IS SANITARY.

SUPREME BEEF INC. SUED USDA, CLAIMING THE TOUGHER SALMONELLA TESTING STANDARDS WERE ARBITRARY. USDA TEMPORARILY PULLED ITS INSPECTORS FROM THE COMPANY'S DALLAS, TEXAS, PLANT, AFTER IT FAILED THE TEST THREE TIMES. USDA SAYS IT WILL APPEAL THE RULING.

ADHERING TO A FAIR STANDARD IS CRITICAL TO THE SUCCESS OF ANY BUSINESS. THAT'S ESPECIALLY TRUE FOR NEW ENTREPRENEURS STRUGGLING FOR A TOEHOLD IN THE MARKETPLACE. BUT THERE ARE SUCCESS STORIES. A CASE IN POINT IS AN ILLINOIS FAMILY THAT RELIES ON HARD WORK, INGENUITY, AND THE ADVICE OF SOMEONE WHO'S BEEN THERE. DAVID MILLER PROVIDES THIS UPDATE.

 

NEAR PENFIELD, ILLINOIS, THE SUNRISE GREETS DAN HESTERBERG AS HE BEGINS HIS DAILY CHORES ON 800 ACRES. HIS THREE SONS, CALEB, LUKE, AND JOSIAH, JOIN IN THE TASK. THIS MORNING THEY ARE MOVING POULTRY COOPS. LATER THEY WILL JOIN HESTERBERG'S WIFE, DIANE, TO BEGIN SLAUGHTERING SOME OF THE CHICKENS AND TURKEYS.

HESTERBERG IS NEW TO FULL-TIME FARMING, HE DID HAVE SOME PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE HELPING HIS UNCLES WHO WERE FARMERS BUT HE GREW UP IN TOWN. HIS FATHER RAN AN ELECTRICAL CONTRACTING BUSINESS SO WHEN IT CAME TIME TO PICK A CAREER HE FOLLOWED IN HIS FATHER'S FOOTSTEPS, BUT HE ALWAYS KNEW HE WANTED TO BE A FARMER.

DAN:"See when I started farming, I still worked a lot for Dad, you know all winter and and at least a couple of months in the summer. And which was good because it you know supplemental income is a good thing...'Cause 800 acres there's just not enough margin, well, I'm not sure a couple thousand acres there's enough margin right now."

IN THE EARLY 90s, DAN AND DIANE DECIDED TO GET INVOLVED IN AGRICULTURE ON A FULL-TIME BASIS. THEY TRIED PARTNERING WITH A DAIRY FARMER IN PENNSYLVANIA BUT IT DID NOT WORK OUT.

EVEN SO, THE HESTERBERGS WERE NOT DISCOURAGED. THEY CHOSE TO MOVE TO DAN'S HOMETOWN OF PENFIELD, ILLINOIS, AND LOOK FOR ANOTHER FARMING OPPORTUNITY. DAN WENT BACK TO DOING ELECTRICAL CONTRACTING AND TRUCKING.

IN 1993, HE SIGNED-UP TO BE PART OF A PROGRAM SPONSORED BY PRAIRIE FARMER MAGAZINE WHICH LINKED PROSPECTIVE FARMERS WITH RETIRING ONES. THROUGH A STRANGE TWIST OF EVENTS, HESTERBERG'S REQUEST ENDED UP ON THE FRONT PAGE OF THE LOCAL PAPER.

JOHN DEWEY, WHO HAD BEEN FARMING IN THE AREA FOR 30 YEARS, HAD BEEN THINKING ABOUT RETIRING.

JOHN DEWEY:"Well, I think I had known for several years prior to that, intellectually, that my son wasn't interested in farming. But it finally got through to me, emotionally, that he wasn't.... And I was just meeting myself coming and going and said, uh, "Gee, this, this, I'm getting too old for this nonsense."

WHEN HE SAW THE ARTICLE, HE WENT NOT TO DAN BUT TO DAN'S FATHER BOB.

JOHN DEWEY: "And, uh, I went to him and I said, uh, you know, "Is Dan really interested in farming or is this something that the reporter did to make a good story?" Having had some experience with this sort of thing, I figured I'd better find out first. And his dad said, "Yeah, they're definitely interested, but you'll have to talk to him."

BECAUSE OF THEIR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE, THE HESTERBERG'S WAITED SEVERAL WEEKS TO GIVE DEWEY AN ANSWER.

DAN HESTERBERG:"We just weren't sure about it, so we thought about it and prayed about it for two or three weeks, I suppose before I went out and talked to John and Marilyn and..."

DIANE HESTERBERG: " 'Cause we had been through a attempted partnership on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania and it hadn't it hadn't worked out."

DAN HESTERBERG: "No, we went into it I think with our eyes half shut. And …"

DIANE HESTERBERG: "We were young"

DAN HESTERBERG: "Yeah, and our desire to farm overruled our senses."

JOHN DEWEY: "I think they did say, you know, "We'll get back to you in a couple of weeks.", or something like that. And so, I really wasn't sure what the answer, what they were going to say when they came back. And, uh, when they did, why, the explanation they gave me was that they were so delighted at the idea they thought they'd better let it soak for a while before they jumped at it. (laughs)

AND SONRISE FARMS WAS BORN. THE HESTERBERG'S AGREED TO BUY DEWEY'S MACHINERY AND RENT HIS FAMILY'S 800 ACRES OF TILLABLE LAND. DEWEY WANTED TO WATCH HESTERBERG FOR THREE YEARS TO MAKE SURE THE DEAL WOULD WORK OUT FOR BOTH PARTIES. AFTER ONE YEAR, DEWEY REALIZED HESTERBERG WOULD HAVE NO MORE TROUBLE THAN ANY OTHER FARMER AND BEGAN TO DEVOTE FULL-TIME TO HIS PLAYER PIANO BUSINESS.

HESTERBERG EVENTUALLY LEARNED THE SAME LESSONS MOST FARMERS DO. ONE OF THEM WAS THAT FARMING MAY NOT ALWAYS COVER ALL OF THE EXPENSES. TO MAKE ENDS MEET, HE WENT BACK TO DRIVING AN OVER THE ROAD TRUCK.

DAN HESTERBERG: "… we had you know, last year we lost money, so I'm trying to catch up a little bit and and 'cause I'd like to just stay here, but sometimes when an opportunity comes along, why I hate to turn it down."

BESIDES ALL OF HER REGULAR CHORES, DIANE HOME SCHOOLS THE CHILDREN. AND WHEN THE BOYS AREN'T IN SCHOOL, THEY HELP AROUND THE FARM.

IT WAS AT A "HOME SCHOOL" CONFERENCE WHERE DAN AND DIANE HAD AN "EYE OPENING" EXPERIENCE. THEY FOUND SOME BOOKS WHICH PROMOTED MANAGEMENT INTENSIVE GRAZING,

A METHOD OF RAISING LARGE GROUPS OF LIVESTOCK ON A MINIMUM NUMBER OF ACRES. THE MANUALS WENT ON TO FURTHER EXPLAIN HOW TO DIRECT MARKET THE FINISHED ANIMALS TO CONSUMERS.

ALONG WITH THE INVESTMENT IN THE CHICKENS, HESTERBERG SPENT A LITTLE MORE THAN $100 DOLLARS ON MATERIALS TO MAKE CAGES. THE SALES OF THEIR FIRST FLOCK CONVINCED THEM TO EXPAND. NOW THEY RAISE CHICKENS, TURKEYS, CATTLE AND HOGS USING M-I-G AND NO ANTIBIOTICS OR HORMONES ALLOWING THEM TO COMMAND A PREMIUM PRICE.

THE PROCESSED ANIMALS ARE MARKETED DIRECTLY OUT OF A GARAGE ON THE PROPERTY. EGGS FROM THE CHICKENS ARE AVAILABLE EITHER AT THE FARM GATE OR, IF YOU'RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO LIVE IN NEARBY GIFFORD OR PENFIELD, DELIVERED DIRECTLY TO YOUR DOOR. CURRENTLY, SONRISE FARMS SELLS 50 DOZEN EGGS PER WEEK AT $1.50 PER DOZEN FOR THE LARGEST SIZE.

AFTER FOUR YEARS OF DIRECT MARKETING THEIR CUSTOMER BASE IS HOVERING AT AROUND 75 PEOPLE. THIS YEAR ALONE THEY HAVE SLAUGHTERED AND SOLD 400 CHICKENS AT $1.25 PER POUND. BUT SONRISE PATRONS HAVE ALSO PURCHASED FIFTY TURKEYS, SIX HOGS, AND FIVE HEAD OF CATTLE. THE CATTLE AND HOGS ARE BUTCHERED AT A LOCAL LOCKER BUT ILLINOIS STATE LAW ALLOWS THE HESTERBERGS TO BUTCHER THE POULTRY RIGHT ON THE FARM. WHEN THE TASK COMES UP THEY ENLIST FRIENDS AND RELATIVES TO HELP... INCLUDING DAN'S FATHER BOB.

DAN HESTERBERG: " Oh, I as far as our selling the food business, it's fine, I think the third year we finally got in more income coming in than going out I think so, it's I think we're we're on the right track now. I'm not going to say it's all going to be downhill from here, but it's … cause it seems like every year we have you know a new learning curve. You you have trouble in an area and you just, you wonder why and so it takes a while to get things ironed out "

THE HESTERBERGS ARE THE FIRST TO ADMIT THAT IT IS STILL ONE STEP AT A TIME. AFTER THE LAST OF THE CHICKENS ARE SLAUGHTERED DAN WILL AGAIN TAKE AN OFF- FARM JOB DRIVING A TRUCK.

DAN HESTERBERG: "I don't see the future really without direct marketing, on a you know start out on a small scale like this and honestly, if if we hadn't thought of this, I'd be so discouraged with grain farming, I'd probably quit a quit before I I you know my equity was gone."

FOR MARKET TO MARKET I'M DAVID MILLER

 


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