Janzen Family Farms produces organic beef

Staff writer

A 400-acre farm five miles south of Peabody has been in the Janzen family for 135 years and is a Farm Bureau Century Farm.

Norm Oeding, the operator, lives in the farmhouse built in 1933. He was hired by the Janzen family in 2007 after Mark and Hennie Janzen decided to retire from farming and the family decided to transition to organic farming methods.

Oeding lived in Kingman County for 10 years, where he raised wheat and produced whole wheat flour. Therefore, he was a natural fit.

The farm includes a small herd of up to 20 head of Angus cows. It also produces hard white and hard red wheat and other crops. The farmland, native pasture, and forage crops are all certified organic.

Oeding uses crop rotation, green manure, cover crops, organic fertilizer, and rotational grazing to build up the soil and make it productive without the use of synthetic chemicals.

These practices minimize the use of costly inputs that harm the environment, decrease the need for fuel, and result in less disease and use of antibiotics. By focusing on local sales, the business minimizes transportation costs, as well.

Weaned calves are raised on open grazing land — including alfalfa, brome, and crop residue — until they are heavy enough to harvest for meat. Oeding is planning to graze the animals on winter wheat that has recently emerged.

When they are ready for market, the steers are processed one-by-one, as needed, by Peabody Sausage House. Oeding said some steers reach slaughter weight in 18 months.

The beef is sold in volumes of a quarter of a beef or less to customers Oeding meets at farmers’ markets or who find out about it online. He said researchers have found that grass-fed beef has less fat and calories than grain-finished beef and has more Omega 3 fatty acids.

“People are interested in eating healthier,” he said.

The farm sold all of the beef it raised in 2011.

A special white-washed room on the farm is used for milling flour. It has several large metal bins that hold cleaned wheat berries. Oeding transfers them by bucket to a micro mill called Henry Creek Flour Mill, named after the creek running through the property. The mill uses two granite stones to grind the wheat. It has a timer which, when set, lets it produce 50 pounds of flour an hour.

“It is the smallest commercial flour mill in the state of Kansas,” Oeding said.

He learned early on that more people are interested in buying finished products than in buying the flour. Much of the flour is taken to a bakery in Wichita to be made into whole wheat products — bread, burger buns, hoagie buns, rolls, and cracked wheat bread. Products are packaged under the label, “Little Red Hen Bakery.”

“We take a very basic, common product — just about anybody in this part of the world grows wheat — and run it through a grinder,” Oeding said. “We add value, and we keep adding value as needed. We generate a lot more revenue and most of that revenue is earned. There’s a little bit of profit in it and it works.”

He noted if wheat is $9 a bushel, it sells for 15 cents a pound. If a loaf of bread contains 1.5 pounds of wheat along with other ingredients, not much of the cost comes from the actual wheat in the product.

According to the Janzen Family Farms website, Oeding’s bread products are sold at the Doyle Valley Farmers Market in Peabody during its open season. They also are sold at the Prairie Harvest Café in Newton.

Oeding supplies several retail stores in Wichita and can supply customers in the Topeka and Lawrence areas through Janzen family members.

Oeding is assisted in the business with Janzen family members who help with accounting, marketing, web design, and other things.

“Our products bring a lot of value to the farm,” Oeding said. “We are farming in a sustainable way, and we are trying to get the soil into condition for not needing chemicals, especially synthetic fertilizers.”

 

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