LouisJohn Slagel, 34, keeps his eye on the long game when it comes to the Illinois business climate in COVID-challenged 2020. That includes revisiting reliable business relationships and exploring new markets for this fifth-generation farmer in Fairbury.
Slagel praises the soil and growing conditions that allow Slagel Family Farm a plentiful food supply for their livestock. He appreciates the lack of urban sprawl yet recognizes how the farm’s proximity to Chicago allows for expedited delivery and unique business opportunities.
“A large part of our customer base is Chicago restaurants,” Slagel said. “We focus on quality. What we have found is that customers want a quality product and an honest company. Our clients know we will do what we say we are going to do. We run three or four trucks a week up to Chicago so that feedback is important to us.”
The main challenge of 2020 has been uncertainty from COVID-19. When Chicago restaurants closed in March, Slagel Farm diversified and transitioned from emphasizing wholesale to retail.
They capitalized on a partnership with Dunlap-based Source to Table to provide more home shipping. So far this year, they have experienced record orders for quarters/halves of beef, whole hogs and other products as people filled their freezers to protect against future supply chain uncertainty.
They continue to explore new opportunities to bridge the gap between urban and rural communities including:
· Farm Tour & Dinner: While June and July’s events were canceled, August and October are still on the calendar. A Chicago chef travels to Slagel Farm and cooks a signature meal. Participants come early and tour the farm, learn about different cuts of meat and enjoy a four-course dinner.
· Youth Camp: City kids learn about where their food comes from by spending a week on the farm. Unfortunately, the camp was tabled before it got started due to the pandemic shutdown, but Slagel hopes to try again in 2021.
· Farm2Bowl is the latest “interesting new business model” according to Slagel. The farm has created a pet food brand in partnership with a pet chiropractor in the Chicago suburbs. Feedback has been positive, and they have begun offering more and more pet-related products.
“My personal advice is to focus on quality,” Slagel added. That strategy has steered the Slagel family since the late 1800s and continues forward through future generations.