What do you get when you cross a guidance counselor with a biology education major? Well, if the guidance counselor is a farm boy from Brodhead with a double major in ag business and psychology, the answer might be a sustainable meat farm. At Riemer Family Farm, former guidance counselor Bryce Riemer and his wife, Jen, have been making some of the best beef, pork, and turkey in Wisconsin for well over a decade using methods so revolutionary, they predate the industrial revolution.
“Everything is grazed,” says Jen. “Grass-fed beef is our cornerstone because we have the land base to be able to manage around 100 beef on average. We rotate them daily during the growing season.”
Rooting pigs act as plows for natural grasses to thrive, which the cows eat and then fertilize, and turkeys act as natural pest control. This simplification of what’s going on highlights the environmental benefits of supporting grass-fed products. There’s even an abundance of milkweed on site, making the farm an important stopover for the monarch butterfly migration. If you visit, Riemer Family Farm just might be the only piece of self-sustaining land you’ll see for miles.
“We are in a spot surrounded by industrial farms,” says Jen. “So we have multi-thousand-acre farmers who have bare land two-thirds of the year and a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) at the end of our road. And we are just this little green oasis with so much diversity of insects and mammals and all of the microbes in the soil.
“This is my husband’s family farm. He grew up across the road from where we are now, which is the old original-brick farmhouse where his grandparents lived when he was a lad. Then we met in college, and we worked our suburban jobs. He’s always had a vision for restoring this house because it’s really special to him, but he didn’t really enjoy or have a vision for the kind of farming that his dad did—the commodity corn and beans and selling cattle into livestock option. He didn’t really have a vision for the farm until 2007. We started reading books and learning about rotational grazing and doing more managed livestock in a different way. That felt much more ecologically sustainable. We ended up at the MOSES Conference (now Marbleseed Organic Farming Conference) and were blown away that there were actually other people doing this already.”
It wouldn’t be until 2010 that Jen and Bryce gained the finances and, more importantly, decision-making power to begin transitioning everything into the grazing-style farm it is today. Jen notes that, though she would’ve preferred to transition sooner, family relationships are very important to her and husband, and they didn’t want to step on any toes. “This was the proper way to do it.”
The couple also needed to find the most efficient way to get that product into the hands of consumers. It started with “schlepping meat all over the state line, and we did delivery spots. So we were constantly away from the farm delivering meat. Then when COVID hit the fan, people were ready to get their food delivered to them, and we had put all the pieces in place but hadn’t really pulled the trigger yet. At that point, we started shipping one-day ground and realized that was the business model we wanted to continue using so we could be away from the farm less. … I thought I’d ship 10 boxes every other week; we ended up having to cut off orders at 100 a week a couple times. It was insane.
“We have a pretty robust website and online shopping experience. We really have put a lot of effort into making it easy for customers to find us and buy products from us. We ship throughout the whole upper Midwest. Basically, the whole state of Wisconsin, most of Illinois, and spilling into neighboring states as well.”
Some of Riemer’s largest customers serve as a reminder to Jen that how her and her husband go about the business is paying off. Not only have they created loyal customers across the Midwest, they’ve established themselves in local restaurants. Off Broadway Drafthouse uses Riemer’s burgers. Pasture and Plenty served Riemer’s turkeys this past Thanksgiving. Even the high-end Cadre Restaurant uses their stuff, alleviating Jen’s imposter syndrome.
What seems to be the bigger picture here is that doing things in a way that speaks to sustainability when it comes to sourcing food is a really great way to find success in an area where more and more people are mindful of what their dollars are endorsing. Jen loves seeing the increasing number of people seeking to be educated about their food, and she wants to see more of it when it comes to understanding the value of becoming a farmer. “Farming is not a plan B if you fail kind of thing. It’s a high calling. … We need the A+ kids to come back and be thoughtful about the way farming is done. … It’s like this very basic, essential human need, and our food system is in trouble. There are a lot of great people doing a lot of great work.”
Riemer Family Farm prides themselves on how they raise and process their animals and how their animals are restoring the land. Jen and Bryce seem to be farming because they believe they’re doing it right—doing right by the land and right by the animals in ways big ag financially won’t consider. We’ve all been asked to think about where our food comes from, and it’s also important to remember to ask ourselves where do we want our food to come from—sustainable farms run by conscientious farmers.
To purchase meat from Riemer Family Farm, visit riemerfamilyfarm.com. Their flexible subscribe and save model saves 5 percent on every order. You’ll also find seafood from Bering Bounty LLC along with recipes and other useful information.