For our monthly series “Meet The Kitchen Purveyor,” we sat down with Justin Kilgus of Kilgus Farmstead to get to know them a bit better. Here’s what he had to say:
Where exactly is Kilgus Farmstead?
We’re in Fairbury, Illinois in the center of the state. We’re about a hundred miles south of Chicago.
How would you describe your farm?
We have about eighty acres of pasture land, about eighty acres of hay, and then about nine hundred acres of corn and wheat. We feed all of our animals non-GMO grains — ninety percent of their diet comes from grain foraged here on our farm. In addition to the crops that we grow, we also have our own pasture land where the cows are allowed to go out and seasonally graze. Right now, we’re milking about a hundred and forty to a hundred and fifty cows. We have five, full-time family members working, and then we have one full-time truck driver, and part-time that helps out once in a while. Other than that, we really don’t have any employees.
Kilgus Farmstead is the only single-source, on-farm milk bottler in the state of Illinois.
Our milking parlor sits a hundred feet from our processing facility. We pasteurize, package and ship our milk from right here on the dairy. You can come here and see the entire process, from the baby calf, all the way through bottling, and then purchase the milk here on the farm. Other dairies in the state will pull their milk together and take it to a processor and have it shipped out from there — those farms tend to loose their identity. Being a farmstead, we can ensure the freshness and quality of our product. Basically, if you’re looking for a local milk in Chicago, there’s one choice.
Correct. Our beef comes from our male calves in the dairy herd — I guess that’s where our farm started. My Grandfather started it back in the sixties, I believe. Then, more family members got involved, and we became more specialized, from dairy off into the pigs. The goats started out as a 4-H project for my brother and me, and there were no intentions of creating something that would bring us back to our farm. Today we kid out a hundred and fifty to two hundred does.
Can you tell me about your goat program?
We have Boer goats, which is basically the meat breed of the goat industry. Boer goats produce just enough milk to feed the young they produce. We have our own herd which we feed out with non-GMO grain. Some people will do it all on grass. From a chef’s standpoint and from a quality standpoint, however, goats are already lean and low in saturated fats. Feeding them just grass lends itself to being a tougher kind of meat. We’re able to put more marbling in the meat. When it’s then served at a restaurant, whether it be a chop or a leg, they are a lot more tender than what your typical goat would be.
Should Americans be eating more goat?
Being low in saturated fat, goat is a healthier choice than your beef or pork. It’s gaining popularity, it’s something that a lot of Americans have never tried. Even in the past five years, and in years to come, I think it will continue to gain popularity.
So, The Kitchen Chicago features Kilgus Farmstead goat and pork on their menu year round?
Correct. I would say on a weekly basis we deliver a hundred to a hundred and twenty pounds of pork, and roughly twenty to thirty ponds of goat to The Kitchen Chicago. They’re moving through quite a bit. Once the summer months hit, I do look for that figure to go up. I guess we’ll see what happens.
How do you like working with The Kitchen?
The Kitchen has been very good to work with. I’ve been there on delivery and I’ve been there to meet with Chef Johnny. Johnny has also been down to visit the farm. He is definitely locally driven; always looking for new products, and better ways to do things. I think he’s a great fit for today’s market, as he wants to incorporate local foods in the restaurant and is a very innovative individual. It’s also a great way to drive the community, as well.
What other restaurants do you work with in Chicago?
I’m sure you’re familiar with Stephanie Izard, and her restaurant ‘Girl & the Goat’. We’ve gone into all her restaurants as she’s opened them, obviously with the name they sell a lot of goat. We also work with Rick Bayless and his restaurants, ‘Frontera Grill’, ‘Xoco Dos’, ‘Topolobampo.’ Those are probably the two biggest ones that you’ve have heard of.
As a third generation Kilgus Farmstead Farmer, have you ever thought about doing something else?
No. I grew up with the farmer boys — it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m not going to say that farming doesn’t come with its early mornings and late nights, but it’s one of those jobs where if you didn’t enjoy it, you wouldn’t last long. It’s a commitment, especially when you’re working with livestock. I’m glad to be where I’m at. It’s a great way to raise a family.
Interview by Veronika Sprinkel Ink. 2015
Images courtesy of Kilgus Farmstead