In preparation for the Alice in Dairyland finals, which will take place in Adams County in May, event organizers welcomed current Alice, Crystal Siemers-Peterman, and others to tour local agricultural businesses that are supporting the upcoming event.
The “For the Love of Agriculture” tours visited Wisconsin River Meats, Fawn Creek Winery and Huber Sheep Farm on Feb. 3 in Adams County.
Siemers-Peterman said touring the wide variety of Wisconsin agricultural businesses has been one of her favorite parts of her experience as Alice in Dairyland.
“You get to see and experience a lot of different parts of Wisconsin agriculture,” she said. “This year has been a really cool experience.”
Wisconsin River Meats, a Mauston-area meat processing plant, was started by John Hamm and David Mauer in 1992. Their initial facility, which opened full time in May 1994, was 2,000 square feet and processed beef, pork, lamb, buffalo, red deer and elk.
Hamm said he first learned how to make German-style sausage from his grandfather and later attended Southwest Tech, where he learned Swiss-style sausage-making. After making a few adjustments to the recipe, they developed their various sausages, including their most popular product, Landjaeger. This sausage is made completely by hand and has won the business many awards over the years.
Wisconsin River Meats does a large portion of its business online, shipping its products nationwide, Hamm said.
“The Internet sales (are) by far the fastest growing (aspect of our business),” Hamm said. During the busy season, he said, they would package and ship more than 100 boxes a day, up from their typical 25 to 30 boxes during the slower parts of the year.
Hamm said they stay busy processing deer from both the bow and gun deer seasons.
“We do over 3,000 orders of deer and trim that people bring in. We figured out that we do about 400,000 pounds of venison each year,” he said. “On the second day of deer season last year, I skinned 200 deer in a 12-hour day.”
To keep each part of the process organized, Hamm said they use a number tag system for the deer that keeps the line moving.
In addition to its processing, Wisconsin River Meats is a big supporter of the community, Hamm said, helping local FFA chapters and other youth organizations, as well as offering tours and demonstrations for schools. He said they also process animals from seven fairs each year, which keeps them very busy in the summer months.
“We laugh that it is like a farm because you have to make hay when the sun shines. Just like a farm, we have peak time that we have to work,” he said. “Dave and I have tried to even the work out, but Christmas, deer and fair seasons all come when they come and we do not have a lot of control over it.”
Fawn Creek Winery, where the Alice in Dairyland Discussion Meet will be in held during the finals in May, is family-owned by siblings Dan Hanson, Pam Genrich, Sally Haberkorn and Susan Hanson, along with their spouses. They are entering into their eighth season of making and selling wine.
“When we started out, the first year we bottled about 24,000 bottles. We are close to 100,000 bottles now,” Susan Hanson said.
The winery uses fruit from California and 250-gallon stainless steel tanks to make their 12 flavors of wine. The wine is aged in the tanks, and when it is ready, it is gravity-fed to the bottling system in the basement of the winery. The basement was specially designed with thicker walls to help maintain a cooler, steadier temperature.
The family said they did not know much about wines before starting the business but used the resources available to develop a successful business.
“We took a lot of classes and learned how to do a five-year business plan and went from there,” Susan Hanson said.
Fawn Creek Winery offers a full experience for its guests, including live music throughout the season and wine tasting. Genrich said they typically do about 20,000 wine tastings each year and can have anywhere from 400 to 600 tastings a day throughout the summer months.
Their wines range in flavor from dry to sweet and are available all across Wisconsin. A portion of the sales of their Kilbourne Red wine goes back to the Kilbourne Fire Department and the Adams County Sheriff’s Department
At the Huber Sheep Farm, attendees got to see a newborn lamb and watch Josh Huber demonstrate sheep shearing. They learned about the different types of wool and how they are valued and were able to feel the wool for its lanolin, an oil secreted by wool-bearing animals that is often used in lotions and other skincare products.
The three-day final interview process at which the 71st Alice in Dairyland will be selected will be May 17-19 in Adams County, with the Finale Program taking place May 19 at the Adams-Friendship Fine Arts Center. For more information, visit http://www.aliceindairyland.com.