~Written by Carolina Fojo, East Coast Fellow for Bon Appétit Mgmt. Co.
As a Fellow for Bon Appétit, I have the pleasure of traveling to local farms from which Bon Appétit purchases, and meeting the very people who provide us with the food we eat. In September, I traveled to St. Libory, IL to visit Brad Schmitz, owner of Wenneman Meat Co., an old fashioned butcher shop and meat market that provides meat from Illinois farmers to Bon Appétit cafés at Washington University in St. Louis.
Wenneman Meat Co. is unique to its area. Let’s face it—Illinois is corn country, not meat country. And sure enough, as I drove down IL-15 E—(nearly blinded by the sun, it was so bright!)—I passed field after field… after field… of corn, and soy. So what is this shop, sourcing local meat, doing in Illinois corn country?
Well, the first thing is that Wenneman Meat Co. has been around for a while—this family business has been around since 1927. The second thing is that it wasn’t always as unique as it is now; indeed, although it’s never been the main agricultural activity in St. Libory, raising and selling livestock was, once upon a time, common. But a combination of time, a changing ag industry, and corn subsidies forced farmers out of the livestock business and into corn and soy almost exclusively. Today, Wenneman is the only meat retailer of its size in the area– and Wenneman’s presence is crucial to the livelihood of local farmers. Larry Hermans and his son Brad, who sell pork to Wenneman (in addition to growing corn and soy, along with a few other jobs here and there), informed me that, were it not for Wenneman’s continued business, they would not be able to raise hogs. Now you might say, in the “big scheme of things”, so what? They’ve got their corn and soy, they’d survive. But according to Larry, no one aspect of their business is enough to earn them a living; it’s all the parts coming together that allow ends to meet. And that includes the hog part; that includes their sales to Wenneman. This story is not unique to Chad and Larry; Wenneman supports the businesses, and therefore livelihoods, of about ten farmers in its area.
Maybe it’s the quality of their meat that’s kept Wenneman in business for so long. Maybe it’s their loyal customer base. (Some people have been buying from Wenneman for 50+ years.) According to 3rd generation owner Brad Schmitz, it’s the diversity of the business itself. But whatever the reason for its success, Wenneman Meat Co. is truly a beacon of local light in a land of corn and soy, and a great example of what the local food movement is meant to do. So to Brad Schmitz and all the folks at Wenneman—thank you for your work; we at Bon Appétit are proud to be your customer.
Brad Schmitz is featured in the picture above. To see more photos from my visit to Wenneman's farms, click here!