After nearly three decades away, when Steve VanDerLoop found himself back on the family farm. He also had ideas about the future of farming and what he wanted to accomplish. That included having a hamburger without harming the planet.
Over the past decade, VanDerLoop’s focus at North Pasture Farms, W13179 Ranch Road in Bruce, has become regenerative agriculture and grass-fed beef. Last year he raised and processed 67 cattle, about 120 pigs and about 1,500 chickens.
Every month, he delivers beef, pork and chicken to customers with 17 drop-off points in the Milwaukee area south to Racine, plus northern Illinois and Chicagoland, and the Twin Cities region of Minnesota.
There are no minimum purchase requirements, though if you order less than $60 worth there is a $7.50 fee. For information and to order, go to northpasturefarms.com.
Returning to his roots
I grew up here (in Bruce). I left when I was 18, right out of high school. It is hard to make a living up here. … My grandpa got here in 1916. I got on my motorcycle and left in 1975 …
I’d work in Texas in the oil field in winter and run around every summer. Then in 1979 I was in Oregon and found religion. I wound up in a church in L.A. and spent the next 28 years working in the church. …
My wife and I came back in 2008 to visit the folks. Ma had a heart attack the winter before and was not taking her pills. … We wound up staying and taking care of the place. I took over, and at the time Pa was 85 had gotten down to eight cattle.
When I was a kid we had about 100. … I sold two steers at the local sales barn and found out it only cost me $200 a head to raise and sell the steers. I decided to go with grass-fed beef, this was in 2009.
Deciding to deliver
We started trying to sell grass-fed beef locally and got nowhere. There are people up here who want grass-fed beef, but there aren’t as many of them and you don’t make the money you do in cities.
I had two freezers full of grass-fed beef and it was going nowhere. One of my nephews was into cross-fit in Vancouver and he said cross-fitters eat a lot of grass-fed beef. … I emailed all the gyms in Minneapolis, just, “Dear owner, I have grass-fed beef, do you want some?” No response.
Six months later my nephew said try it again, it is growing. I had one owner respond. I had a little Ford Escort station wagon, went to Minneapolis with 200 pounds of meat. I sold out in 12 days. OK, I can make a living doing this. I quit my outside job in 2010.
Finding his focus
I started with grass-fed beef. … People just asked me can you start raising pork? Can you start carrying chicken? I looked around to find people who raised pork and chicken. My pork guy is by Chippewa Falls. They are not pastured, they are outside. I do have some pastured pork. I make no bones about it. I tell people where my pigs are raised.
The chickens same thing. I have an Amish guy who raises them in a chicken tractor, like a Joel Salatin chicken tractor. I show people how it is done. I think the main thing people like is I make no bones about the way I do it.
Climate and cattle
Why do I think about global warming and regenerative ag? I think that if we as a society are going to not ruin the place, we have to make changes. … I think the only way to make huge changes is if people can make money at it.
This is certainly biased, to me the way to do that is to figure out how to make regenerative agriculture a way for people to make a living at it and maybe a good living. It doesn’t have to be a great living, but it has to be a good living. I want to show that can be done.
Growing a business
I deliver to Milwaukee, Chicago and the Minneapolis/St. Paul areas. During the absolute pandemic, March and April last year, sales went through the roof.
My most popular are steak and ground beef, bacon and pork chops. What I seem to have a lot left over of is ground beef and beef roasts. …
Roughly half an animal will be ground beef. You have to cut the price, so your profit margin is very little.
My ribeye steaks sell for $25 a pound, and quite often I run out of them. I feel bad about raising prices so I don’t run out, but that’s the only way.
I go to Chicago every two months. There’s a guy who buys 20-30 pounds of ribeyes, 30 pounds of filets, and 20 to 30 pounds of bacon. He found me when I was delivering to his gym. There’s a lot more of those guys there than in the woods up here. My money comes from the steaks.
By the numbers
When I first started I tried doing quarters and halves. Then I found out people do buy that, but it is not nearly as popular as the smaller amounts. People live in apartments and have just a freezer.
My average is $135, and that would be a healthy mom with a smallish chest freezer. A $100 bucks is the person with the fridge or freezer on top or bottom.
What he saves for himself
I like to take a beef roast, doesn’t matter what kind, and I make a stew. I cut it into chunks, cook it a long time, throw in some vegetables, and cook it some more, smash a bunch of potatoes and have beef stew over mashed potatoes. Steak is we’re going to have a nice meal.
Fork. Spoon. Life. explores the everyday relationship that local notables (within the food community and without) have with food. To suggest future personalities to profile, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Rusk County farmer delivers grass-fed beef and more to Milwaukee area