John and Pat Sondgeroth, owners and operators of Heartland Meats in Mendota, have been selling their meat products at farmers markets in the Chicago area for 17 years.
USDA joined farmers, like the Sondgeroths, in celebrating National Farmers Market Week. Farmer’s markets give consumers access to locally-grown and farm-fresh products, while giving farmers the platform to grow and connect with their customer base.
“We sell roughly 50 percent of products at farmer’s markets,” said John.
As fourth-generation farmers, John and Pat began operating their grain and livestock farm in 1987, where they raise and process Piedmontese beef. The farm has been in John’s family for more than a century, established in 1903 by his great-grandfather.
The Sondgeroths opened a processing plant, where they only process beef they raise. Their products are sold directly to consumers.
“We were the first vendors to sell meat at Chicago farmer’s markets,” he said. “We’ve seen competitors come and go.”
According to John, having “taste, tenderness and consistency” sets them apart from their competition at farmer’s markets. However, wholesale markets are the Sondgeroth’s biggest competitor.
“I really like interacting and working directly with the consumers at farmer’s markets,” John said. “Educating consumers is a challenge in the agriculture industry. We have to tell our story, what we do, why we do it and how. It’s a necessity.”
Throughout the week, Heartland’s products are sold at Illinois farmer’s markets located in Evanston, Oak Park, Mount Prospect and Chicago. John said farmer’s markets take up around 70 hours of their time every week. On Saturdays, while John takes on the Oak Park Farmer’s Market, Pat runs their station at the Evanston Farmer’s Market, and their daughter, Katie, covers Green City Market.
“Saturday is our longest day,” he said. “The alarm goes off at 12:30 in the morning; we are on the road by 1:30 and in downtown Chicago by 3:30. We have to go to bed at 6 p.m. every Friday.”
Aside from farmer’s markets, their products are sold in their Mendota store, on their website, at the Dill Pickle Food Co-op and restaurants located in Chicago and Wheaton.
Use the National Farmer’s Market Directory to find a market near by going to www.ams.usda.gov/local-food-directories/farmersmarkets. To date, there are nearly 8,700 markets in the USDA Farmer’s Market Directory.