Two central Illinois family businesses share a farm-to-plate relationship that benefits consumers and local economies.
Livingston County’s Kilgus Farmstead, known for on-farm bottled Jersey milk, also produces beef, pork and goat meat. Peoria County’s Pottstown Deli, a specialty market, sells quality meat and food products at its store and through its catering business.
Both Matt Kilgus, a farm co-owner, and Jason Barth, a market co-owner, see the importance of their businesses’ relationship - a farmer-market relationship sparked years ago by a chance meeting at the Illinois Products Expo.
“They’re a pivotal part of our business,” Kilgus said. The market buys milk, several hogs and a steer each week from the farm.
“Small businesses support others, and the money stays locally,” Barth said. “Small businesses invest in their communities … and are the fabric of the local town.”
Near Fairbury, the Kilgus Farmstead supports four families with a 150-head Jersey cow milking herd, a Berkshire farrow-to-finish operation, Jersey steers and Boer meat goats. They farm about 75 acres of pasture.
Each week, the family bottles 6,000 gallons of milk and sells about half to Chicago area stores, restaurants, coffee shops and food services. The Kilguses also operate an on-farm store that sells dairy, meat and ice cream Monday through Saturday.
Owned and operated by third and fourth generations, Pottstown Deli specializes in meat from Illinois and Iowa farms and smoked meats processed at the market. The market also sells milk, eggs and a variety of foods.
The Barth family “takes pride in (offering local) specialty products” that include Ropp Jersey cheese from McLean County, Kathy’s Kitchen pickled foods from Cass County and Oakland noodles from Coles County.
Live Local Conference participants will tour the deli Tuesday (March 10).
Everchanging consumer demands influence both the market and the farm.
“When we started bottling, we didn’t realize the need for (milk at) coffee shops or the volume,” Kilgus said. He estimated coffee shops now buy at least half of the dairy’s milk.
At the same time, the Kilgus family and the U.S. dairy industry are challenged by decreased fluid milk consumption as consumers chose other beverages, including cow milk alternatives, the dairyman said.
Barth noted his great-grandfather, his grandfather and uncle operated the market as a small grocery. But his parents, Bob and Katie, changed the business to a specialty market with the advance of large supermarkets. Later, the Barths added smoked meats, deli products and catering services.
Consumers’ growing interest in food origins impacts markets and farms. Barth and Kilgus know their customers are curious about where their food comes from and how it is produced. With a chuckle, Barth mentioned some of his customers drove to “check out” the Kilgus Farm.
Kilgus appreciated the attention: “It’s really neat. We’ve been in the Peoria area and people have said, ‘We’ve bought your meat.’ It boosts our name.”
Local sources and markets serve an important, but frequently little recognized, economic purpose in their communities.
“Look at our small business - it’s everybody who maintains our delivery truck to the fuel and all the many people we work with,” Kilgus said. “There’s a lot to make a small business work.”
Just as farms benefit when consumers better understand farming, so do specialty markets. When asked how farms could support businesses such as his, Barth recommended, “Getting out the word about how agriculture works in real life and how good practices are used. There’s a lot of misconceptions out there.”