OTTAWA, Ill. — Jody and Beth Osmund don’t expect the sale of
Smithfield Foods to Shuanghui International to bring a mass exodus of concerned
carnivores to their farm gate for the naturally-raised, antibiotic-free meat
they raise and sell.
They’ll be happy if the deal just gets consumers thinking
about the food on their tables and in their grocery carts — and if that brings
those concerned carnivores calling.
“In a nutshell, I want people to care about where their food
comes from,” said Beth Osmund, who markets Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm’s meat
community-supported agriculture program to audiences.
“If this deal goes through, it won’t actually change that
much, but if it brings that to peoples’ attention, if it brings it to the
forefront, that can only help us and other farms like us. Anything that makes
people think a little bit more about where their food is coming from is good for
The Osmunds have made a new life and new business for
themselves raising and selling first vegetables and then naturally-raised,
antibiotic-free and additive-free beef, chicken, pork and eggs.
They have more than 200 customers at their year-round meat
CSA, one of only a handful in the region, and they also sell their meat and eggs
at farmers markets, including one in Logan Square in Chicago and in Joliet.
As they add new markets for their products, the Osmunds are
seeing a growing interest in the CSA style of food buying.
“The more that people are aware of it and the more that CSA
becomes the norm, it’s not the thing that only your hippie-dippy neighbor does,
then that’s good for everybody,” Beth Osmund said.
“It’s moving into the mainstream. When I do marketing
events, my opening line is, ‘Are you familiar with a CSA? Do you know what a CSA
is?’ And more and more people are saying, ‘Yes, I’ve heard of it before,’ which
is good,” she said. “It’s not the hippies, and it’s not the foodies. It’s
mainstream America getting used to cooking again with real ingredients.”
She added that the Smithfield Foods sale also brings into
focus more questions about the U.S. food system in general.
“Do we want three or four companies controlling all the hogs
in this country? Forget China — even if they are all American-owned, really, is
that a good idea? Is it ever a good idea to have things that concentrated, and I
would argue, no, our food system needs diversity,” she said.
The Osmunds are no strangers to drastic change in lifestyle.
They moved to the farm owned by Jody’s parents, which they now own, in 2002,
after Beth lost her job at Arthur Andersen in Chicago when Enron crashed and
Jody’s job had been a victim of the bursting of the tech
bubble, and his parents had recently remodeled the farmhouse on the 80-acre
parcel in rural Ottawa.. The couple had talked about starting a small home-based
“My wife and I had always talked about doing some sort of
small business. In 2002, I was considering a change, so the farm opportunity
kind of lined up,” Jody Osmund said.
They had two young children — middle son Duncan, now 11, was
“We decided if we waited until we thought we were ready, the
kids would be pretty comfortable in suburban lives and they would not want to be
uprooted and come to the farm,” Osmund said.
He grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm about
nine miles north of where the family lives today. But when the family moved to
the farm, in the summer of 2002, they knew that raising a commodity crop wasn’t
in the cards.
“We knew we were not going to be grain farmers. We didn’t
have the land or the giant bags of capital needed to get that started,” he said.
Instead, they decided to go the cow-sow-hen route with a few
“One of our very first purchases when we moved to the farm
was a dairy cow. Chickens followed that the next spring,” Osmund said.
Beth’s job as a special education teacher supported the
family during the first five years on the farm.
They started their farm with a vegetable CSA in 2003. Cedar
Valley, along with Marseilles-based Growing Home Farm, were the first two CSAs
in La Salle County.
“Especially around here, it was an unknown,” Jody Osmund
Jody and Beth themselves didn’t know about CSAs until a city
friend gifted them a copy of Eliot Coleman’s famous book, “The New Organic
The vegetable CSA worked well until logistical challenges
made the Osmunds rethink their plan.
“Our first couple of seasons, we had over 50 members right
off the bat. That went pretty well, although in our exuberance, we were adding
drop-offs for members, and we found that we spent as much time or more in our
delivery vehicle as we actually did farming, so we kind of pulled back from
that,” Jody Osmund said.
The meat business started in 2007.
With the help of a U.S. Department of Agriculture
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Grant, the Osmunds purchased a
market trailer and a cold plate refrigeration unit as the foundation of their
meat CSA and farmers market sales.
Today, Cedar Valley raises its own chicken, pork and beef
and also purchases both breeding stock and market animals from a local Angus
breeder and a local pork producer who raises Hampshire and Duroc hogs on grass
and in the organic style that Cedar Valley customers expect.
“We raise some of it here and we buy some of it as fat
animals,” Osmund said.
In fact, the Osmunds have helped their pork supplier develop
markets for their pastured pork that is drug-free, antibiotic-free and
“They have developed a wholesale market where they are
selling to some of the top restaurants in the city,” Osmund said. “Since they
started working with us, they’ve put up hog pastures, and they have their hogs
moving outside. They’ve been moving a lot more toward how we do things, which is
something we are really excited about.”
The Osmunds welcome competition. In fact, they help grow it.
“No one farm wants to or can serve everybody. We want there
to be hundreds of farms like us, and that’s why we go to conferences, that’s why
we teach other farmers and why we encourage more people. We try to build our own
competition,” Beth Osmund said.
Jody Osmund said one of the primary concepts behind local
farming is that producers, because they are face to face with their customers on
a regular basis, can be held to a higher standard.
“When you do direct marketing and farmers markets and CSA,
you are rewarded for excellence and you are punished for lower quality,” he
Cedar Valley is not a USDA-certified organic farm, but the
meat is processed at two facilities which do organic processing — the chickens
at Central Illinois Poultry Processing LLC in Arthur, the state’s only organic
chicken processor, and the beef and pork at Bittner’s Eureka Locker in Eureka.
Osmund said processing costs — it costs the couple about
$2.30 a bird to have its chicken processed versus less than a dollar for
large-scale processing facilities, and labor costs make up a lot of the price
differential between naturally-raised meat and conventionally-raised meat.
“We’re able to pass that cost along to our customer and our
members, and they expect it,” he said.
Raising animals the way that Cedar Valley does also is more
Jody and Beth, their three sons, Richard, 14, Duncan and
Jack, 7, as well as a part-time teenage employee make up the farm’s labor force.
“It’s a lot more labor-intensive. For instance, with the
chickens, today I moved the birds to fresh grass, fed and watered them and then
just went back to water them again,” Jody Osmund said.
But the efforts pay off. While business dropped a bit in
2010 and 2011 as the full force of the economic downturn hit across all economic
groups, he said business has been picking up and growing again.
“It’s been ticking up again. We’ve added several new
drop-off locations in the past year,” he said.
Among them is the Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago.
“They contacted us. They were adding the drop-off location
as a service to their club members, to be a CSA drop off for vegetables with
another farm. They wanted to do a meat CSA, so they came to us because they knew
who was doing it right,” Osmund said.
He said he sees doors opening for CSAs. He is involved with
a CSA marketing coalition that hopes to spread the word about CSAs to health
maintenance organizations, such as the FairShare CSA Coalition did in Wisconsin.
Osmund said that local farms are taking advantage of an
increased demand by American consumers to know where their food comes from and
how it is being raised.
“I think farms like ours and the pork breeder that we’re
working with have already seen that opportunity as people get more aware of food
and are asking where it’s coming from,” he said.
Even as they work to open new markets and introduce new
consumers to their products, Jody and Beth Osmund let their products do the
talking — and the tasting.
“One of the highest compliments we get at the farmers
markets or from CSA customers is, ‘Your chicken tastes like chicken.’ Our
customers can bake it just with salt and pepper, and the flavor is incredible.
One of our CSA members was at a recent pick up that included pork chops. She
came in completely excited, ‘Oh, there’s pork chops! I didn’t want to miss this
pick up!’ She said eating our pork chops was a life-changing experience,” Jody
For more information on Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, go to