Jeff and Kathy Preder
N254 County Rd. I
Random Lake, WI
Q: Is Jeff-Leen Farm a family farm?
A: It’s been a family farm since 1868. We are the 5th generation on the farm and if we can keep it in business there should be a 6th and possibly a 7th.
Q: How big is your farm?
A: The home farm is 124.5 acres and then we lease about another 125 acres.
Q: How did you get started, or was it just assumed that you’d take over the family farm?
A: I think my parents wanted one of the sons to take over farming, and the opportunity came up when my dad took ill in ’76. In ’76 I quit my job at the cannery, I was a maintenance mechanic, and came home for the summer to work on the farm. Then January 1, 1977 we had decided to buy the farm. We’ve been there since, and then in ’97, September of ’97, we sold the dairy cows, and started a small beef operation. That grew to about 125 beef animals that we contract raised for an outfit out of Billings, Montana, and they went bankrupt, and we were like, all right, what are we going to do here (Laughter) so we ended up downsizing at that time and started going to farmer’s markets in the Milwaukee area, selling beef. And I think a year later we included meat chickens into our product line, and then a year after that we started with egg-laying chickens, and since then we’ve grown to about 1000 meat birds and roughly 500 laying hens, and we have about 30 cows that produce offspring for us for butchering, and the breed is Piedmontese, an Italian breed.
Q: Why Piedmontese?
A: I was introduced to them and the people said it’s a low fat, low cholesterol beef animal and they do very well, you should try something like that. So, that stimulated some interest, and we tried some in ’97. We bought 7 of them and we finished one out for ourselves and the meat was just SO much better than the Holsteins we were raising before that, and my wife says we’re NEVER going to butcher another Holstein steer for us. And it’s ironic as our farm name is Jeff-Leen Farm for Jeffrey and Kathleen, but it works really well now with this beef because everyone thinks that we named the farm after the lean beef but we actually named it after the two of us.
Q: Is your farm certified organic?
A: This last fall we applied to do certification on some of the acreage, and we have 138 acres right now certified organic. We had been doing organic practices prior to that because it takes three years to certify, but there is some of that land of the 250 acres approximately that we run that still has to go into transition into certifying organic.
Q: Do you work full time on the farm? Do you work off the farm?
A: (Laughter) Yes, we work full time on the farm. My wife takes care of the chicken chores, and I take care of the beef and help her with some of the chicken chores, and I have an off the farm job. I work roughly a 40-hour workweek but if they require with the maintenance position to work more I’ve worked as many as 84 hours in a week. So, I’m not afraid to work!
Q: What motivates you? This is a lot of work, you have a full-time job off the farm, and another full-time job on the farm.
A: (In unison) The customers. The customers and to provide people with a healthy choice of meat and eggs. I’m not going to say that it’s going to stop there, because, the future, who knows what the future is going to hold. Could be more things we’re going to take on, I don’t know.
Q: I know you went to the Terra Madre event in Torino Italy, the gathering of local food purveyors and enthusiasts sponsored by the organization Slow Food, and had a wonderful time. What did you find so inspiring about it?
A: The buying local. To see 800 or so vendors, at the Terra Madre convention, from Italy alone, and that they supported the local community. And when I came back home, and I learned of SALFA, I was like, we have got to become more involved in promoting more locally, and then it was just all the people from 150 countries that were at Terra Madre, it was just such an energy feeling amongst people that all had the same thing in mind. Just raising wholesome food for people out there. You almost can’t really explain it in words, you almost have to have experienced it and seen it.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
A: Well, we’ve run into already that we don’t have enough beef. So I have contacted a neighbor farmer with beef cattle and loaned him a bull of mine to breed his cows, and buy his calves back. Because right now with the full-time job I don’t have the time to put into more cows, taking care of that. That’s in the future, expanding that way. And if some grandchildren want to grab a hold we can expand the herd. We want to, because of the organic in the future here, and, we’re going to need grain bins on the farm, to store the grain commodities. My son sounds interested in this, we may even offer sale of organic feeds for other farmers in the community. So, these are all long-range future things. My wife first found out about a lot of that this evening on the way here. (Laughter) So that’s how current , recent this is. In the future also, I would like to put product here at the little cooperative store opening here at Paradigm (Goodside Grocery), and I’m sure there could be other opportunities for us, but right now we just don’t have enough of the product. It’s pretty tight right now, what we have available. But we’re going to be doing boneless chicken breasts, and there will be thighs and drumsticks available, and just wings available. Then the (rib)cages from those birds for people to make chicken stock. Or we may even go so far as to find a commercial kitchen someplace and have it made and sell the soup or the stock. I guess those are future things. I never stop letting my wheels spin. (Laughter)
Q: Do you finish off your beef with grain or is is totally grass-fed?
A: No, everything is 100% grass-fed. The baby calves, about one month after they’re born, they get a little bit of grain to help “hunker” them up faster and get them off the mothers faster. And they only get it about two months, and after that they self-wean and everything after that is 100% grass-fed.
Q: Where do you market your products?
A: The Sheboygan Farmer’s Market, the Winter Sheboygan Farmer’s Market, Fox Point Farmer’s Market, West Bend Farmer’s Market, and this last winter we also took on the Winter Farmer’s Market at State Fair Park. And then we have product at Outpost stores, eggs are available at Outpost store. And we have products available at Slow Pokes in Grafton, and Cedar Valley Cheese store at Random Lake. Then, also, we do deal with a couple chefs, on occasion. Stefano’s in Sheboygan gets our product, Jack Kaestner from Oconomowoc Lake Club gets product, and David Swanson from Braise on the Go gets product from us. Oh, and Peter Sandroni of La Merenda down in Milwaukee also gets product. Lots of different directions.
Jeff-Leen’s Slow-Cooked Beef Stew
2 lbs. beef stew meat (can use chuck roast
or sirloin steak cut into 1” cubes)
1 ½ tsp. salt ¼ c. flour
½ tsp. pepper 1 ½ c. beef broth
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce 3 potatoes, diced
4 carrots, sliced 1 stalk celery, diced
2 onions, chopped 1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic
1 tsp. paprika
Place meat in a crockpot. Mix flour, salt and pepper; pour over meat.
Stir to coat meat. Add remaining ingredients and stir to mix well.
Cover and cook on low 10-12 hours (or high 4-6 hours). Stir
stew thoroughly and remove bay leaf before serving.