It’s one of the few aspects of agriculture that just might be recession proof.
“People got to eat,” said Jake Collins of Country Pride Meats in Clinton. “If the economy’s not doing good, people still eat it. It really doesn’t fluctuate much.”
In an industry fraught with low commodity prices and farm closures, meat processing mostly has been insulated from such hardships.
Large meat processors might struggle with changes in import and export markets.
But local butchers such as Country Pride are preparing meat according to customer specifications. The finished cuts are sold at retail counters or transported to nearby restaurants or grocers.
Those prices are less prone to volatility and, unlike crops and dairy products, aren’t dictated by faraway markets.
Where butchers do feel the pinch is competing with ubiquitous meat brands sold in national grocery chains.
“Competition is pretty hard with all that because you can’t compete (with) what they’re selling and what we have to have for our product,” said Andy Sorg of Sorg’s Quality Meats and Sausages outside Darien. “All we’re doing is looking for selling quality meat.”
So local butchers must focus carefully on the process of meat processing—how the sausage is made, if you will—as a way to distinguish themselves from other meat brands. The Gazette met with three area shops to learn more about how an animal becomes a steak.
Sorg’s, N4290 Highway 14, Darien, originally began as a dairy farm. The family had long milked cows but decided to switch to beef in the late 1950s.
The family also raised hogs and chickens, selling eggs at a roadside stand. When people stopped for eggs, they saw cattle in the background and wondered if the family would ever consider butchering its own beef, said Barb Sorg, Andy’s wife.
Barb, Andy and Andy’s brother Johnny are the oldest regular employees at the business. Barb estimates that 15 family members work full- or part-time, plus other friends who have connections to the family.
The Sorgs no longer raise their own beef, buying mature cattle from southern Wisconsin or 700-pound calves from the Upper Midwest. The calves are fattened to 1,100 pounds before being slaughtered, Johnny said.
The shop on Highway 14 has expanded multiple times since it opened about 60 years ago. The original storefront is now a packaging center, and the imprint of the first retail counter is still etched on the floor.
That room is tiny in comparison to the current retail area, which contains a well stocked display case and coolers that line the walls. Now the family produces about 60 varieties of bratwurst alone, Andy said.
Large butchering and storage areas are necessary to make dozens of different brats, not to mention the family’s steaks, pork chops and smoked hams.
After an animal is slaughtered and hung to bleed out, a machine pulls the hide off the carcass. Workers then remove the animal’s internal organs, clean the body and put it into the first of two coolers. This first cooler chills the animal quickly before it moves into another cooler, Barb said.
Depending on the animal, a carcass will spend about a week or two inside the cooler to age. Aging “settles” the meat and creates a better product, Andy said.
Then the animal is cut to order and crafted into whatever carnivorous offering it’s destined to become. Most revenue still comes from the retail storefront, which relies heavily on repeat customers.
“When we had the little store, we used to have a cheese slicer. The kids would stand there and we’d give them a little slice of cheese and sausage,” Barb said. “They’re coming in now, they’re married with kids, and they go, ‘I remember when you gave me a hot dog.’
“They kind of look at me and go, ‘You’re still here?’”
Sergio Rios was working in Chicago when a friend who knew the former owners of Johnstown Meat asked him to join the staff. Leaving one of the country’s biggest cities to work in an unincorporated hamlet required some adjustment, he said.
But in Johnstown, the pace is less hectic. Life is more laid back, and he never has to worry about making it to work on time from his home in Harvard, Illinois, he said.
And he can focus on the art of cutting meat.
For Rios, who has since taken over the small meat shop at 10249 E. County A, Janesville, butchering is as much art as the sketching classes he takes in Harvard.
“It is an art. Art is about different styles,” he said. “You take a painting. Nobody is going to paint the same thing. If you break down a beef, nobody’s going to cut a beef the same way.”
Rios takes pride in his work. Cutting beef is his favorite part of the job. Each steak must be carefully cut and trimmed before it’s ready for a customer, he said.
During his art classes, Rios focuses mostly on black-and-white drawing or colored pencil sketches. He is trying to learn oil painting now, and some friends have suggested he do tattoos.
He’s wary of working with permanent ink on a person’s body. He prefers an animal canvass instead.
“I’m not going to give a steak I just cut fresh off the saw. No. I got to trim it. I got to clean it for you,” Rios said. “That way, when they put it on their pan or the grill, they go, ‘Oh this looks nice.’ And if they know how to cook it, it even tastes better.”
Country Pride, 109 Church St., Clinton, started its butcher shop about 10 years ago to supplement income from its beef farm, which continues to operate. The farm isn’t too big, so the store helped create enough business to support the family’s two sons, Jake and Jon, said their mother, Kathy Collins.
There was plenty of trial and error at the beginning, but the family received feedback from the state and other nearby butchers to help them learn the craft, she said.
Certain times of year dictate different focuses for the small business. As the weather gets warm, customers want grill-ready meat. In the fall, Country Pride gets busy with slaughtering animals that had recently been shown in county fairs, Kathy said.
When someone brings in an animal for slaughter, a team of butchers will do one order at a time. That way, customers will receive meat from their own animals, Jake said.
Customers can specify different cuts of meat when they submit an order at the front counter. Although the dairy and crop markets have dropped into a furrow, people’s meat buying habits don’t change much, he said.
If retail meat prices are high, people might choose burgers over steak. But they’re still eating meat, he said.
Country Pride sometimes relies on other farms to help provide all the meat it needs for its retail store. But its own animals take priority, giving the family an extra level of insurance as other farms struggle to make ends meet.
“That’s a nice thing about having our own farm,” Jake said. “We can guarantee a market for our animals.”
While we’ve been looking for Easter eggs, God’s looking for us.
That’s one of the messages church goers will hear at Easter morning services.
Easter is the major holy day in the Christian tradition. Without Easter, which celebrates Jesus Christ’s victory over death, there would be no Christianity at all.
Easter is also a time when ministers can count on their churches being packed to the beams. The regular Sunday attendees being joined by “christers”—people who attend only on Christmas and Easter. In addition, many people who never attend at all might finally decide to give in to Aunt Susies’ pleas to try out her church, “just this once.”
That’s a tough crowd, especially if your goal is evangelism.
At New Life Assembly of God, the congregation is in the middle of a sermon series they’re calling “Easter Eggs.”
“It’s really about those truths hidden in scripture,” said the Rev. Jason Karampatsos “This Sunday morning, it’s about the truth that God has been hunting us. It’s a play on kids hunting for Easter eggs.”
The sermon will be based on Luke Chapter 15, which contains the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.
“In each of those, there is an active seeking out and searching that which is lost,” Karampatsos said. “We want to give that message of hope that no matter where people are, whatever path they’re walking, God is actively and passionately seeking them.”
It’s important to let people know God is seeking them despite their imperfections, he said.
“At the beginning of Luke 15, Jesus is with the tax collectors and the sinners,” Karampatsos said. “You don’t have to clean yourself to come to God. He is seeking you as you are.”
Karampatsos deliberately plans his Easter sermon series so it doesn’t end Easter Sunday.
“That way, if guests on Easter Sunday return, I want it to feel comfortable, very to familiar to them,” Karampatsos said.
The sermon will be available online after Easter Sunday services at nlag.net/sermon-archive.
At Faith Community Church, Janesville, the number of people attending service almost doubles on Easter Sunday, said Rev. Jeff Williams.
That makes it a good time to talk about Thomas, the disciple who could not believe Christ rose from the dead without physical evidence.
“Thomas doubted Christ, even though there was evidence enough for him to believe,” Williams said. “There was the witness of the empty tomb, the witness of women, the witness of prophecy.”
Christ doesn’t rebuke Thomas for his lack of faith.
“When Christ tells Thomas, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe,’ he’s saying that those witnesses continue to speak,” Williams said.
Williams will talk about each of those pieces of evidence, deconstructing each to show how it supports the faith.
Williams sermon will also be available online at www.faithcommunity church.net/recent- sermons.
Mary Margaret Boston
Mary Alice Brown
Carol M. Graul
Richard L. Hoium
Virginia F. “Ginny” Lee
John E. Nottestad
Teresa Irene Reis
Vicki Diedrick Sievert
In a rare move, the Wisconsin Supreme Court took control Friday of an appeal of a lawsuit challenging laws passed by Republicans limiting the powers of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul.
Without being asked, the state’s highest court assumed jurisdiction over the appeal of the lawsuit brought by labor unions arguing the legislators’ actions in December violated the state constitution’s separation-of-powers doctrine.
The court’s decision means two of the four lawsuits challenging the GOP-controlled Legislature’s action before Evers and Kaul were sworn into office will be decided by the Supreme Court, which is controlled by conservative-leaning justices.
The court’s four conservative justices wrote that they “concluded that the interests of the state would be best served by the appeal bypassing the court of appeals and proceeding in this court.”
The court will decide whether to uphold a lower court’s decision to block some of the lame-duck laws while the case continues.
In their dissent, the court’s three liberal-leaning justices wrote that “this court should not reach down and assume jurisdiction of the appeal without giving the parties notice and an opportunity to be heard.”
Lester Pines, an attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said he doesn’t read much into the move since the court has assumed jurisdiction over another case challenging the new laws.
Jeremy Levinson, another attorney representing the plaintiffs, said “it is very unusual for a case to find itself in the Supreme Court this early with no one asking” and that the high court will decide the appeal of the lower court’s ruling.
An attorney representing the legislative leaders did not respond to a request for comment late Friday.
Units of the Service Employees International Union, other labor organizations and Democratic state Sen. Janet Bewley of Mason sued in February arguing key parts of the laws violate the boundaries of powers that belong to each branch of government.
In March, Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington threw out provisions that require lawmakers to sign off on settling lawsuits handled by the attorney general; allow legislators to stipulate how thousands of government documents are written; and give legislators the ability to permanently block state rules written by the Evers administration.
The District 3 Court of Appeals had been asked to review Remington’s decision, but that task is now in the Supreme Court’s hands.
The high court just four days ago unanimously agreed to take up another lawsuit filed over the lame-duck laws before the appeals court finished its work in that case. The justices put that case on a fast track, agreeing to hear arguments May 15.
That case was brought by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities and Disability Rights Wisconsin.
They contend all actions from the lame-duck session are unconstitutional because of the method Republican lawmakers used to get themselves to the floor of the Assembly and Senate.
Two other cases are in federal court. In one, U.S. District Judge James Peterson blocked limits on early voting that were included in the lame-duck laws.
In the other, Peterson has told all sides to file briefs on whether he should put the case on hold while the lawsuits in state court are decided.
The release of the special counsel report on Russian interference in the 2016 election marks the end of political shadow-boxing over a secret investigation of President Donald Trump and the beginning of open warfare over whether he should be reelected in 2020.
The long-awaited report from Robert S. Mueller III will almost certainly inflame partisan passions on both sides, even if it changes few voters’ minds about Trump. And it will pose new challenges to Democratic presidential candidates, who have mostly steered clear of the Russia investigation to develop distinctive brands that stand for more than opposing the president.
The problem for Democrats is that the report, while damning and shocking in parts, was not a death blow for Trump—and that mixed message threatens to split the party.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on Friday became the first major presidential candidate to demand impeachment hearings.
“The severity of (Trump’s) misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty,” Warren said on Twitter. “That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.”
Other Democratic presidential candidates have been more cautious, and party leaders in Congress have shown no appetite for impeachment.
Congressional leaders are reluctant to begin a fraught, highly partisan process in the House that will almost certainly die in the Republican-controlled Senate.
That means that, unless the momentum for impeachment shifts dramatically, Trump’s fate most likely will be decided by voters in the 2020 election, not on Capitol Hill. And that is just fine with most of the huge crop of Democratic presidential candidates.
The challenge for them continues to be how to construct a campaign message that can attract the swing voters needed in the general election while still stoking the enthusiasm of Democratic activists who crave Trump-bashing.
“For the core of the Democratic base, (the Mueller investigation) is insatiable red meat. For nonpartisan voters, it’s not clear how much they care anymore,” said Chris Kofinis, a Democratic political strategist neutral in the 2020 primary season. “The reality is that being anti-Trump, no matter how justified, is not a winning strategy, because if it was, Hillary Clinton would have been elected.”
The political crosscurrents buffeting Democratic candidates in the post-Mueller landscape were in evidence as they campaigned after the report’s release. Candidates put out statements and fielded questions from reporters, but few voters asked about it.
“It’s certainly not at the top of mind of most voters around the country,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said to The Des Moines Register while campaigning in Iowa. “They’re concerned about their families, and that’s why I’ve put together a huge platform on really robust ideas and bold visions on how we’re going to get stuff done.”
Even Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of Trump on the campaign trail, stopped short of calling for impeachment in the written statement he issued. And he said nothing about the investigation in his late-day campaign appearance in Spartanburg, S.C., where he focused on education and criminal justice reform.
Despite heavy coverage on cable TV and Twitter about embarrassing details in the redacted report, what once promised to be a potent weapon for Democrats turned out to be a mixed bag.
The report made clear that Trump and his campaign welcomed Russian efforts to sway the election on his behalf even though it involved a hostile intelligence service operating on U.S. soil. But Mueller did not find conclusive evidence of a criminal conspiracy.
Mueller also documented multiple occasions when the president tried to undermine or kill the investigation, but he made no judgment on whether Trump committed the crime of obstructing justice.
Instead, the report painted a vivid portrait of a man who saw his presidency at risk and who went to great lengths to protect himself against what he saw as implacably hostile investigators.
Some Democrats rushed to exploit political opportunities the report created. At least two candidates—Warren and Sen. Kamala Harris of California—swiftly deployed the news to raise money and build their fundraising lists.
Although no candidate flatly ruled out impeachment, Warren was the only major candidate to demand it.
“To ignore a President’s repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation into his own disloyal behavior would inflict great and lasting damage on this country,” said Warren, whose campaign has lagged behind many 2020 competitors in fundraising and polling.
Others have been hedging, noting that only reporters were asking about the report. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who may have held more town halls in Iowa than any candidate so far, says he has answered about 500 questions. “The Bob Mueller investigation has come up two or three times,” he said Thursday.
O’Rourke said he would leave it to congressional leaders to take the lead on hearings and impeachment.
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., suggested on NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers” that Mueller’s findings won’t change much for Trump politically, projecting agnosticism about impeachment.
The report, he said, is “one more reminder that if we really want to send Trumpism into the history books, the best thing we can do is defeat it decisively at the ballot box in 2020.”
Yet for now, one product of the report has been intraparty tension between Democratic activists and party leaders such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland. They see no point in starting House impeachment proceedings that would die in the Senate and possibly give Trump a leg up for 2020.
“This is unbelievably disappointing,” Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama, tweeted upon learning that Hoyer had declared impeachment proceedings not worth it. “Even if you don’t ultimately pursue impeachment proceedings, why on Earth would you say this today?”
Some Democrats are torn between the two sides of the argument.
“Letting Trump slide makes me sick,” said Danny Barefoot, a Democratic media strategist who is not allied with any 2020 candidate. “But there aren’t (enough) votes in the Senate to convict the president. Americans get tired of drama quickly. My head says we end this at the ballot box.”
It’s doubtful that many voters will change their views of Trump because of the Mueller report. His core supporters have stuck with him through thick and thin, and polls show his approval rating has gone up and down within a very narrow range even as his administration has been rocked with controversy.
Still, with Election Day 19 months away, there is plenty of time for damning new information about Trump to sink in—or sink like a stone.
Until now, the flow of information has “largely been controlled by Mueller and Trump’s Justice Department,” said Mark Longabaugh, a Democratic strategist who used to work with Sanders. “Now, the report is out and Congress will fight the redactions and start calling witnesses. Let’s see what the public thinks in a few months.”