My name is Colleen Ruhter. I am a professional engineer, but my true passion is sustainable farming. I grew up on a small farm. Though I spent years trying to get away from it, I eventually rediscovered my desire to grow my own food.
In 2014, my family moved to Illinois after years on the East Coast. We wanted to be closer to family, to help my in-laws with their bison farm, and to start a homestead. Three years later, we attended The Land Connection’s Beginning Farmers class. My husband Jeremy and I learned about the business side of farming, while also researching and growing our farm plans. That Little Farm in the Country was born.
We always enjoyed the pork from our homestead pigs, but not what they did to our pastures. They rooted badly, while still eating about ten pounds of feed each day! Then we heard about Idaho Pasture Pigs (IPPs), which are known for grazing grass, minimal grain input, minimal rooting, and a friendly demeaner. It sounded too good to be true. But it wasn’t! We got our first IPP feeder pigs, and soon after drove 22 hours to get breeder piglets from Jodi Cronauer at White Bison Farm, who oversees the IPP Registry. Jodi has been our best farm mentor. She has proved us with so much help and guidance on the care, breeding, selling, and marketing of these amazing pigs. As a registered IPP breeder, we sell high-quality piglets so others can enjoy raising these wonderful animals. Our pigs have been purchased by other farmers in six states! Now into our fourth year with IPPs, we will never raise another breed of pigs.
And what’s the point of pigs? Pork!
IPP pork is NOT the other white meat. The iron in their grass consumption gives the pork a deep red color and an amazing taste. Because grass is approximately three-quarters of their diet, our IPPs receive only about three pounds of non-GMO feed daily. This is a much more affordable and a much more sustainable way to raise pigs!
While our love for our IPPs runs deep, we also raise hens and meat chickens on pasture as well. The yolks of our eggs are deep yellow and so is the fat in our meat. The beta carotene from eating grass contributes to the nutrition in the products we sell. This provides a healthier, yet absolutely delicious diet for customers. Our goal is to produce food people can feel good about eating while creating a healthier environment, animals, and community.
Not only are we passionate about our animals, we are also passionate about building our community. We love to see the joy on our customers’ faces as we describe our meat, how our animals are raised, and how delicious our products are. Customers can’t wait to take our products home to try for themselves, and regularly return for more of our delicious food. Most of the folks in our little town of Sidney, Illinois know about our pigs and how much we care about them! It turns out Sidney cares about us, too. The community provided us with over 500 pumpkins, gourds, and squash last fall that our IPPs happily ate until Christmas, after we posted a request on Facebook.
We also offer advice to piglet customers and non-customers alike. The IPP community all across the country knows that That Little Farm cares about others’ success at raising these pigs. Due to the high demand for our piglets, we now have a waiting list for future litters.
In years past, we shared a booth with Ruhter Bison at the Urbana Market at the Square. This year, we decided to get our own booth. This helped our sales increase by a factor of about ten! We hope to double our sales next year, by increasing the number of animals we raise, including expanding our offerings to include lamb and turkeys. Additionally, we hope to create an on-farm store in the near future, ultimately providing our customers easier access to our products.
We also raise and sell mealworms to homesteaders feeding their own flocks, wild birds, pets, or even as fishing bait. Mealworm frass is also sold for fertilizer as a value-added product.
Aside from our animals and their value-added products, our farm also offers hand-made tools (like mealworm sifting trays, and a lever used to easily remove the wheels of a chicken tractor without help) and other one-of-a-kind merchandise. Our very own IPP logo was created last year when I realized there was no IPP merchandise available. The stickers were an instant success. Since then, I branched out to include shirts, hats, and more. We have since added other farm-themed designs to the online store with a goal of helping other farmers express their passions in fun and unique ways.
I am really proud of how happy all our customers are. I’m overjoyed when we get a photo of someone’s bumper sticker or t-shirt, an update on a pig, or when people brag about how great the meal they made was. We even once had a self-proclaimed vegetarian buy bacon for her son, and came back raving about how good SHE thought our bacon was, and how SHE had to have more!
All along this journey, we have tried to show our customers how much we care. From our newsletters and Facebook updates, to our hand-calligraphed thank you notes, we hope everyone can feel our passion for this life and our farm as we happily share our stories, photos, and food!
Winning this award would hopefully move That Little Farm past the tipping point so many farms struggle with. The money would help us expand, while the publicity would help us gain potential customers; propelling us past that point where the farm is big enough and well-known enough to sustain sales and create a profitable platform that makes the years of so much hard work and caring worthwhile.