Locally grown beef helps Eldridge grocer fill shelves

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With so much uncertainty, angst and unknowns in the world, it’s taking teamwork for North Scott residents to weather the coronavirus storm that has swept the country.

One such indication is a new partnership between North Scott Foods, Eldridge’s only grocery store, and Cinnamon Ridge Dairy Farm, located north of Donahue.

With area restaurants being limited to carryout orders only, and people living in self-isolation, more residents are being forced to eat at home. 

Pictures of bare grocery store shelves have been plastered on the television news and across the Internet, and with some items, that’s also the case in rural Scott County.

When it comes to beef, North Scott Foods now has a new supplier.

“Beef is a hot commodity, but right now everything is hot,” said Steve Grolmus, owner of North Scott Foods. “We are in extraordinary times, and for us to have an opportunity to have a farm-to-table option on a local farm product, it’s awesome.”

It was Cinnamon Ridge owner John Maxwell who approached Grolmus last week, after he had been approached by Jeff Thoma, owner of Jeff’s Market in Durant and Wilton.

“I had gotten a call from Jeff Thoma asking if I had a couple extra steers that he could butcher,” said Maxwell. “I said, ‘Absolutely,’ and then asked why.

“He said that as a grocery store they were limited in terms of how many items they could order from their warehouse, and that they could only go 15 percent over their average.

“If there were ways for them to get products that don’t come from a warehouse, it was a way to supplement their inventory,” Maxwell continued. “He said he’d like to get a couple steers, and they’d cut them up and put then in the grocery store.”

Maxwell was already set up to sell meat commercially, which is a complicated process. Since he already sells beef to area restaurants and in his own store at the farm, he was able to immediately respond to Thoma.

“Keep in mind, there are a lot of state regulations,” said Maxwell. “You have to have the label right, the packaging right and meet other regulations. I’m already set up, and that is a several-year process.

“There are times when I went down that trail, that we wondered if it was worth it. At a time like this, I think it was.”

Maxwell’s call from Thoma made him think about North Scott Foods, and whether or not they were in the same predicament.

Keep in mind, some of the groundwork had already been in place, as Maxwell had begun conversations several weeks ago, before coronavirus was on anybody’s mind, about selling his meat in Eldridge.

“We’d been talking about it a while, and this week push came to shove,” said Grolmus. “He came to me several weeks ago, trying to figure out a time frame, but all of a sudden commodity meats have been kind of hard to come by with some of our outside vendors.

“John approached us about bringing in his freezer, and we were all about it. We are excited to be able to offer that.”

Maxwell said that when he called Grolmus, the grocer asked how much hamburger he had. Maxwell said that he had more hamburger than Grolmus could sell, and Grolmus said, “I’d take that bet.”

“The volume is unprecedented,” said Grolmus. “We’re buying as much meat and produce outside of the warehouse that we can. We have some really good vendor partners there, which allows more space on our truck for our core grocery items, which we can get.”

Last Wednesday (March 18) Maxwell delivered his freezer and 100 pounds of frozen hamburger, and the next day he delivered 50 more.

“I wanted to sell, and I wanted the North Scott community to enjoy the great beef that we have,” said Maxwell. “I just had one stipulation. I said I wanted to sell 10 cents cheaper than what’s in the meat case, because I have two disadvantages.

“One, my product is frozen, and the store’s is fresh. Second, mine is wrapped in paper, and customers can look at the other products through plastic. That makes it a little bit of a disadvantage, but I think local will sell.

“And, once you taste Jersey beef, you won’t turn another direction,” he continued. “We know it tastes great, and the reason people wouldn’t want it is because it’s a smaller beef. But when you’re buying a pound of hamburger, it doesn’t matter. I challenge anybody, if it’s not the best, let me know.”

Maxwell said that he would also be providing prime cuts, such at T-bones, ribeyes, New York strips and ribeye steak sandwiches, along with hamburger and hamburger patties.

A never-ending supply

Even though Maxwell’s bread and butter is dairy, as evidenced by the 250 head of Jersey cows he milks daily, he got into the beef business because he needed a way to deal with his Jersey steers.

“This all started with having Jersey steers, and not knowing what to do with them,” said Maxwell. “Because they are a smaller animal, you can’t give them away at the sale barn, and the joke was you drop off Jersey steers and you had to pay them to take them.

“That was the problem in front of me. How do I make this very healthy, great calf into something? Right now, I have roughly 20 that will be ready to go real soon, with several that can go immediately.”

Maxwell has his steers butchered at the Durant Locker, which is state inspected. It normally takes 10 days to process, and he has four in the pipeline right now. Making hamburger is a little quicker proposition.

“Ideally, you like to have the beef hang for 10 days, which makes it more tender,” he said, “but if you’re grinding the whole thing up for hamburger, you can butcher one day and grind it the next. We will do it the right way unless something dictates it otherwise.”

For now, it appears that when push comes to shove, North Scott residents should have a healthy supply of beef at their disposal, whether it’s through North Scott Foods’ regular supply chain, or Cinnamon Ridge.

“I have plenty of steers,” said Maxwell. “You’re not going to run me out of beef on a local level.”

“His meat is a local option,” said Grolmus. “I’m sure it will be a very popular item.”

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