Pat Dietzler of Glen Ellyn didn’t dream of owning a farm 11 years ago. Her husband, Dan, an engineer, called her one day with an announcement: He put a bid on a 35-acre farm in Elkhorn, WI.
The news puzzled her.
“He said to me ‘I always wanted to be a farmer,'” she said. “At this point, I’ve been married to him for 28 years. I said ‘Really?’”
Later, he added on two dozen cattle and began reading and exploring the Internet for further research.
“He started going on Amazon.com and every day there were piles of books about making hay and genetics,” she said. “He was just devouring this. Every evening, he would sit down and read and take notes. He kept asking questions. He’s like that. There is no problem that Dan Dietzler isn’t going to be able to solve.”
Dan’s focused interest in this farm has grown from a hobby into a cultivated agribusiness. He is the owner of Dietzler Farms, a successful family-owned and operated specialty ranch that raises and sells premium, dry-aged beef to local and Chicago-based restaurants and online customers. With Glen Ellyn as the couple’s home base, Dan oversees the ranch’s operations and as well as operating an engineering company and various construction businesses.
Helping their father are siblings Bob Dietzler who runs the production side and Michelle Dietzler who handles sales, distribution and marketing.
What makes their beef different is that the cattle, healthy Hereford and Angus steers and heifers which are cross-bred, are raised in a natural and humane way.
“My dad’s mission was to invest in the farmland and also raise healthy animals for our family,” Michelle said. “I’m one of five kids and we have all these relatives, friends and neighbors who are always around. We have a lot of people to feed here, and my dad wanted to make sure that we were raising healthy animals with non-genetically modified feed, no antibiotics or steroids and that were humanely raised, pasture-grazed and yielded a flavorful, tender steak.”
To accomplish that goal, the herd feeds on grass and a custom diet of alfalfa and hay mix with non-genetically modified corn and soybeans, Michelle explained. If an animal becomes sick, it is separated, treated and sold to market or another local farm as a treated animal. It is not sold under the ranch’s label. From 1999 to 2007, Dan grew his herd and educated himself about the animals’ genetics and their lineage. The herd became so large that the family had to make a decision of what it wanted to do with the cattle.
“Initially, when my husband started this, he wanted the farm but wasn’t quite sure as to what the direction might be,” Pat said. “It was a hobby. In some cases, we have gone to other ranches where they would have auctions and some people would sell seed stock for the genetics. He thought that, ‘If I had the best genetics and the best meat-producing cattle that I might go that direction or I could sell the cattle for meat or I could do whatever it is that I wanted to do.’”
In 2007, the family began selling the meat at Lombard and Glen Ellyn farmers’ markets. Owners of local eateries inquired and purchased the beef. The farm’s local clients include Honey in Glen Ellyn, Vie in Western Springs, The Cellar Bistro in Wheaton and Two Brothers Brewing Company in Warrenville. It also sells meat to famous Chicago-based institutions such as The Art Institute, Charlie Trotter’s and the Four Seasons Hotel’s Seasons Restaurant.
“I’ve really grown this business,” Michelle said. “The first year, when I was selling at the farmers market, we did 35 animals. This last year, we did 250 animals. We grew fast and we were able to sell everything and we have a waiting list that’s about a year out right now.
“Our business is built on transparency. We invite the chefs up to our farm, see our processor and actually spend a day with the butcher. They know me personally, and they can call me anytime and we make sure that we cater to them.”
Not only has the farm made a name for itself locally but it’s receiving national attention. For the second consecutive year, it will be a featured stop on a tour presented by Outstanding in the Field, a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based events touring company which selects farms throughout the country and pairs them with top chefs who create menus for visiting guests.
For the future, the farm plans a slow and steady growth, Michelle added. Projects include planning more farm dinners, debuting a heirloom tomato meat sauce this spring and being featured in two cookbooks. In one of the books, Paul Virant, executive chef of Vie, talks about Dietzler Farms being his favorite farm and shares recipes using its beef.
For information, visit Dietzler Farms’ Web site at dietzlerbeef.com.