Rae Rusnak has been around ducks and chickens her whole life. Originally from Plymouth, Minn. it was her grandfather who initially got her interested in raising chickens as he had a large poultry operation in addition to being a high school teacher.
Located half-way between the Cannon River and Zumbro River, on the rolling woodland hills of Goodhue County near Kenyon, Minn. you’ll find L&R Poultry and Produce. Owner Rusnak started her poultry business 17 years ago during the dawn of consumers’ growing interest in sustainably and locally-produced food. She began selling her eggs at the Northfield farmer’s market in 2003. “Demand kept getting bigger and bigger,” Rusnak said.
Rusnak’s chickens are free-range. “There are no fences.” The birds are primarily in the woods. “They find a tremendous number of beetles, grubs and worms,” she said.
Rusnak currently has a flock of 600 chickens, with 300 chickens and 300 chicks. “I raise all my own replacement chickens,” she said. Rusnak has a variety of bird breeds — including Calico Princess, Rhode Island Red, Sapphire Gem and Barred Rock. These breeds do well in Minnesota winters.
For Rusnak, it’s more about quality of the egg over the quantity. It’s important the breeds at L&R Poultry and Produce are tough enough to handle the wide range of weather we have in the state.
Rusnak used to sell broiler chickens but is now concentrating on layers. As it was a challenge to have broilers and layers together. “The meat birds will overpower the layer hens.”
“I still have people purchase directly from the farm.” Otherwise, all her eggs are contracted. “We really have the perfect blend of wholesale accounts.” All Rusnak’s good nest eggs have gone to the Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls since 2006. The cracked eggs, floor-layed eggs, thin-shelled eggs, all go to Raw Bistro Pet Fare in Cannon Falls since 2012. Working with both these local businesses for this long has been a wonderful opportunity for Rusnak. “It’s been nice, we know each other well.” Rusnak is proud that all the eggs produced on her farm are utilized, which is part of her commitment to sustainability. “We don’t have wasted eggs.”
“I’ll keep birds until they are three years old.” Keeping layers that long is unusual in commercial egg facilities. It takes six months for adult hens to lay eggs on a regular basis. “We get our babies in March, because the peak of the egg selling is fall-winter,” Rusnak said.
In addition to the egg business, Rusnak grows seven acres of vegetables. She follows organic practices, though L&R produce is not certified organic. “Everything is direct seeded.” She raises potatoes, a variety of summer and winter squash, root veggies, sweet corn, pumpkins and rhubarb.
Rusnak has contracts with the St. Paul and Minneapolis public school districts. She sells thousands of pounds of produce to the school districts including 7,000 pounds of squash and 6,000 pounds of kohlrabi. She also has sold produce to Northfield, Kenyon-Wanamingo, Goodhue, Red Wing and Pine Island school districts. It’s a win-win for the school districts and for Rusnak, as the districts know where the produce is grown and who grows it and Rusnak feels that it’s easier to sell to schools as she knows in advanced how much produce is contracted. It’s vital for Rusnak to maintain good communication with school districts to let them know when the crop will be harvested and ready for delivery.
“We’ve grown to get a lot better in knowing our buyers.” From selling to grocery stores, schools, at farmers markets and on the farm, each have unique needs. “We need to help educate them on what we can and can’t do.”
In addition to eggs and veggies Rusnak produces and sells maple syrup. She taps 100 sugar maples. Rusnak appreciates the sustainability of making maple syrup as the taps and jars are reusable. The timing of tapping trees and making syrup in March is during Rusnak’s slower part of the year for produce and eggs. “Most of the farm sales are during the summer months.” Rusnak started taping her maple trees right away in March this year. She had four weeks of straight sugaring. Rusnak sells the maple syrup in half pints, 12 ounces, pints, quarts and half gallon sizes. It’s available in both bulk or in retail. Rusnak sells the maple syrup at a multitude of places including Good Acres in St. Paul and the Sogn Valley Art Fair in Cannon Falls.
Raising chickens, making maple syrup and growing veggies isn’t a one-woman show. Rusnak is proud to be running her farming operation with her son, Leo Rusnak; sister, Paula Hoisve; and father, Milo Hoisve.
“We want to work with the environment, we don’t want to hurt it,” Rusnak said. That extends to the attention which goes into raising and tending her flock. “We take care of our birds; we love our birds.
Caring for the fields, the chickens and the people L&R Poultry and Produce serve is vital. The relationships forged through that process is truly gratifying for Rusnak. “There’s no substitute” for fresh produce and eggs. “Customers like to see us and get to know us.”
To learn more about L&R Poultry and Produce, visit their website at http://lrpoultryproduce.com/.