BRICELYN, Minn. — Goette Farms skipped a generation; owners Erika and Brandon Goette have launched it as a serious multi-generational effort in the livestock business in southeast Minnesota — marketing beef and lamb in retail cuts directly to consumers, restaurants and schools.
Erika, 32, is the “farmer,” with 20 cows and 65 ewes on this Faribault County farm, near Bricelyn, Minn. She’s also the marketer, cold-calling restaurants and finding new customers on drop-off routes.
Brandon has his “town job” as sales agronomist at a cooperative just across the border into Iowa. But he is heavily involved in a farm that has a special place in his heart.
Erika grew up at Ashby, Minn., participating in 4-H and FFA. She was the eldest of four, with three younger brothers. Her parents, Russell and Darcy Sorenson, farmed, milked cows and held down off-farm jobs. She graduated high school in 2007 and went on to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She graduated in 2010 in animal science with a meat production emphasis.
In January 2011, Erika took a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a market news reporter at Des Moines, Iowa. That summer, she returned to River Falls for a summer festival. At a tractor pull, a friend introduced her to Brandon Goette, a UW-RF graduate from Albert Lea, Minn.
Their mutual love of farming helped make it a match.
Brandon, now 33, grew up in town, but long dreamt of life on the farm.
His parents, Gary and Karen Goette, work in steel equipment manufacturing in Albert Lea. Brandon learned to drive a tractor on the farmstead of his grandparents, Jerry and Delores Goette, near Bricelyn, about 30 miles to the west.
Grandpa’s farming charmed him. Grandpa Jerry raised row crops with a brother, as well as raising a few Holstein steers. Grandma Delores kept up the house and baked and decorated cakes.
But Jerry retired when Brandon was 10. The boy thought the dream of living on the place was gone. “I never thought it would happen,” he said.
4-H, FFA roots
Not sure he could ever farm, Brandon committed himself to ag-related youth groups.
He was president of Freeborn County 4-H and an officer in the Albert Lea High School FFA. He earned an “American Degree” associated with his Supervised Agricultural Experience project.
Initially, Brandon wanted to be an ag teacher. He went to UW-RF starting in the fall of 2006. For three summers, from 2008 to 2011, he worked as a cucumber field scout for Hartung Brothers Inc., based in Wanata, Ind. He was a sales and marketing intern at Central Valley Co-op in Hayfield in 2011. He graduated from UW-RF in 2012 with a crops and soils degree.
In the fall of 2012, Erika took a transfer-promotion with the USDA to the Sioux Falls Regional sale barn at Worthing, S.D.
In July 2013, they married and purchased an acreage at Hurley, S.D., about 15 minutes from Worthing, S.D. At the same time, Brandon took a precision agriculture specialist in Freeman, S.D., with Country Pride Cooperative that was headquartered in Winner, S.D. Brandon did computer mapping and seeding recommendations for farm customers. (In early 2019, Country Pride sold its assets to CHS Inc.)
In the fall of 2013, the Goettes bought 11 ewes, to get an IRS Schedule F form, which is used to report income earned from farming, and allows farm-related credits and deductions.
In 2014, the Goettes bought beef cows, eventually increasing to 20. They obtained a Farm Service Agency microloan. Initially, they weaned feeder calves in the winter and sold mostly through the sale barn at Mitchell, S.D.
But in 2017, the Goettes decided they “didn’t want to take the discount,” and had their market lambs butchered to sell as frozen cuts. “We crossed our fingers and said a lot of prayers and hoped that they were going to sell,” Erika said.
In 48 hours, Erika used Facebook to sell out all of the cuts from 11 head of lambs. “That’s when I realized this might be worth pursuing,” she said.
Leap of faith
In the summer of 2018, they arranged to move to the home place at Bricelyn. The farmstead had been vacant for about five years, and it had been about 25 years since it had livestock.
They’re buying the 17-acre farmstead in a contract-for-deed from Grandpa Jerry, who lives about 8 miles away in Keister, Minn.
“We spent many, many hours, lots of blood, sweat and tears, building fences,” Erika said. “We have built everything ourselves, with the help from some family and good friends assisting us.”
They rent another 24 acres to raise forage crops for the livestock. They feed home-raised sorghum-sudangrass, sweetcorn silage from a local cannery, and modified distiller’s grains and rolled corn.
Brandon secured a job as a sales agronomist — fertilizer, chemical and seed sales account salesman for Landus Cooperative located at Rake, Iowa, about 10 miles from the farm. (Landus — with the slogan “For the land and for us all” — is based in Ames, Iowa, the largest integrated cooperative in the state.)
At home, Erika concentrates on the farm and family. Their first child, Kora, was born in November 2017 in South Dakota. Now 3, Kora has been joined by Kaleb, 1, and Kaiden, 4 months.
“I take care of most of the day-to-day chores,” she said. “Brandon does most of the tractor driving, feeding in the evening.” Through the day, she checks cattle and fixes fences, while keeping an eye on the kids.
Year of COVID
In 2020 — “the year of COVID” — the Goettes processed about 120 head of market lambs and 20 head of beef. Everything is processed by Conger (Minn.) Meat Market, in Conger, Minn., about 30 miles away. It’s a USDA-inspected facility about 10 miles west of Albert Lea. (The market, established in 1935 and owned by Jeremy and Darcy Johnson since 2006, employs 20 people, and has its own outlet at Albert Lea.)
They expanded their direct-marketing. All of this happened at the time grocery stores were short on meat and/or were limiting the amount of proteins you could purchase at one time.
“We were not ... having to limit any purchases,” Erika said. “We sold a lot of meat in the first four months. I would say 85% plus of our customers have continued to come back to us. They weren’t just one-time fear buyers.”
Starting in March 2020, the Goettes fielded an enclosed trailer, filled with freezers and emblazoned with the company logo. The USDA inspection allows the Goettes to sell lamb, beef and pork in Minnesota and across state lines. Within 2.5 hours, they can get to Minneapolis, Rochester and Austin in Minnesota, or to Sioux Falls, S.D. They’re working on expanding to Des Moines, Iowa, and farther out.
Besides their own home-raised lamb and beef, they also sell pork from a young area producer, who also processes at Conger. They sell poultry, farm-fresh eggs and some dairy products.
“I am searching out restaurants to set up meetings,” she said. “I’m setting up deliveries to customers and maintaining inventory — all the fun. And doing the books — the not-fun part of the business.”
Goette Farms’ beef usually sells within two months. Ideally, they market in six months or less — for sure in less than a year. Erika said the company keeps its prices competitive with grocery stores. “Our cattle all finish Choice-plus,” a grade that means high quality.
Cold calling on meat
The Goettes’ challenge is to sell the products from a whole animal. If they have a lamb customer for “French rack of lamb,” they must then find a customer for a leg of lamb, and then one for the chops. They also have to work with the locker to ensure cuts are uniform from batch to batch.
Erika does research on restaurant menus via Google and websites. She cold-calls chefs, stopping and leaving products to try. The biggest challenge is assuring the restaurants that they’ll be a consistent supplier.
“The bulk of our customers have found us through word of mouth,” she said.
Erika makes use of Facebook to post in towns where she is delivering. Several times a week they post what they’re cooking at home. “Last night for supper we did a peppered pasta with skirt steak, something different or out of the norm,” Erika said.
Before COVID-19 shut things down last spring, they conducted “Meat and Greet” parties, where they prepared lamb or beef at a party host’s home. It’s a great way to introduce lamb to those who haven’t tried it. In April 2020 they added a website, where they list recipes and other messages.
And there are new things. Recently they made a deal with Blue Earth public schools to supply bulk ground beef, starting in the fall of 2021. They’re looking for other school customers.
People like meat, Erika said, but one of the values is simply being local. “There’s no middleman, and we try to utilize other businesses that are local to source our feedstuffs, and processing,” she said.
The dream is starting to come true.
Here are lamb products produced by Goette Farms of Bricelyn, Minn.:
French rack of lamb
T-bone (loin) chop
Ground lamb (including tomato-basil flavored)
Brats (tomato-basil, wild rice and onion, and jalapeno-cheddar)
Chislic (cubed shoulder lamb)
“Hunter sticks,” or snack sticks
Traditional Lamb Stew
1-1/2 pounds lamb stew meat
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 large onions, quartered
3 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
In a Dutch oven, brown meat in 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Remove with a slotted spoon; set aside. Add the onions, carrots and remaining oil to pan. cook for 5 minutes or until onions are tender, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes, broth, salt, pepper and lamb; bring to a boil.
Remove from the heat. Cover and bake at 350° for 50-60 minutes or until meat and vegetables are tender.
With a slotted spoon, remove meat and vegetables to a large bowl; set aside and keep warm. Pour pan juices into another bowl; set aside.
In the Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour until smooth. Gradually whisk in pan juices. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in the parsley, meat and vegetables; heat through.
Bon Appétit – Recipe courtesy of Chef Paul Mahoney from Stillwater, Minn.