Wheaton Trio Takes Eye-Opening Farm Tours

Executive Chef John Krickl and Sous Chef Omar Rocha at Twin Oak Meats

Long curious about the people, soil, and effort that go into producing the Farm to Fork products the Wheaton College team in Wheaton, IL, enjoys, Executive Chef John Krickl and Sous Chefs Omar Rocha and Mike Godlewski decided to tour three local farms to learn more.

Tom Ifft inspecting his livestock before sorting them for market

They began at Heartland Meats in Mendota, IL, approximately 80 miles northwest of Wheaton. Owners John and Pat Sondgeroth greeted the trio and began touring them around the cattle farm. The farm has roughly 200 head of half-blood Piedmontese cattle. The Sondgeroths receive the cattle as yearlings, when they weigh about 600 pounds each. Over the ensuing 24 to 26 months, the cattle are brought to roughly 1,100 pounds market weight. Piedmontese are a breed prized for their low fat and high flavor profile. The 1,000-acre owner-operated farm recently won two major conservation awards, in part for their no-till/strip-till practices, which protect the soil from erosion by wind and water as well as enhance its fertility.

John, Omar, and Mike were all incredibly impressed by the amount of effort the Sondgeroths put into their animals’ care and well-being. The Heartland Meats tour revealed how closely their entire operation aligns with Bon Appétit’s standards and values.

Farmer Tim Ifft holding a Freedom Ranger at TJ’s Pastured Free Range Poultry

The group then traveled on to Twin Oak Meats in Fairbury, IL, where farmers Tom and Amy Ifft and their children raise approximately 250 hogs, breeding Red Duroc boars with Yorkshire females, known for their good mothering abilities. The animals are given no antibiotics, hormones, or animal byproducts, and are fattened on corn grown on the 20-acre farm. The Iffts work tirelessly to produce premium pork with care and compassion, always trying to put the animals’ best interests before their own. As the Bon Appétiters left the farm, they had a greater appreciation for the amount of work that goes into the product they serve to the students and faculty.

TJ’s Pastured Free Range Poultry in Piper City, IL, was the final stop of the day. Tim and Julie Ifft (Tim and Tom from Twin Oaks Meats are brothers) along with their four children own and operate this farm devoted to two breeds of chicken: Cornish Cross and Freedom Ranger. Roughly every six weeks, a new shipment of 500 to 1,500 one-day-old chicks arrives at the farm. The chicks are placed in a holding pen for three weeks, then put out to pasture on four acres with abundant food, shelter, and water. They remain outdoors until they reach their market weight, about six weeks for the Cornish Cross and eight weeks for the Freedom Ranger. The Iffts also raise Freedom Ranger laying hens, producing free-range eggs that the farm sells.

As they reflected on their informative journey, John, Omar, and Mike realized just how hard each of these families has to work to produce food of such astounding quality. They truly respect the farmers’ collective dedication to their animals and the hardships they endure to produce the top-notch products the Bon Appétit team proudly serves to theirs guests.

Submitted by John Krickl, Executive Chef