“Knowing where your food comes from is such a big deal. People trust a reputable source for their food, and for hogs, people trust me in the community.”
Sam Lowers grew up on a Northern Illinois farm learning about agriculture, including the buying, selling, and fluctuations of the grain market. He graduated from Illinois State University and worked as a grain merchandiser for a local grain company from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. every weekday. Although he loved his job and his employer, he had a desire to learn more in ag.
“I wanted to do more. Honestly, I wanted to do cattle, but they were too expensive, so I ended up buying all the rejects from a hog exhibitor."
Starting out, he would buy the inexpensive show pig runts and raise them for five months before selling them to lockers. Since earning his Meat and Poultry Broker license from the Illinois Department of Agriculture in 2017, Sam, and his company S&L Pork, transitioned to selling directly to consumers. What started as selling to family and friends now encompasses the better part of Northern Illinois.
A conversation at the Beer Here Bar & Grill in Manilus, IL, just a few miles away from Sam’s farm, sparked a business agreement between Sam and bar owner, Nicole Kelly.
The town of Manilus is home to about 300 Illinoisians and it’s fair to say people know each other pretty well. Sam stopped in for lunch at Beer Here on a weekday to order a bacon cheeseburger when Nicole asked him about the bacon on his sandwich. “It’s fine,” he replied, not really thinking too much about it. Nicole shared she was unhappy with the pork and had voiced her frustration with her supplier.
Sam brought in his bacon samples after lunch, and by dinner time the same day, Nicole was purchasing 20 pounds of S&L bacon every month.
“Everything about S&L Pork is better than buying from a big distributor,” said Nicole. “It’s less paperwork, I can have custom orders, there are no inconsistencies, and it can be delivered in a matter of hours. It’s all better.”
Since then, S&L Pork has been supplying pork products by the pound to customers in Iowa and Illinois. Sam buys his pigs from an eastern Iowa farm and raises them for four months before selling their products to his customer base. S&L pigs live in a non-confinement lot before they’re sold direct to consumers in halves or as whole hogs.
“I only use antibiotics when necessary and have excellent health records, even with the hogs being in an open-air building. Being able to tell that story to the consumers in the city has been a huge selling point for me.”
He’s currently in the works of partnering with a friend who has a cattle operation. They've purchased an old freezer body off of a Schwan’s truck and are planning a farmers market tour across northern Illinois to sell their products. S&L Pork finishes 75-100 hogs each year, and according to the Bureau County FSA office, he was the largest private producer of pork in the county for 2020.
Sam serves customers in Eastern Iowa and Illinois. For more information, visit the S&L Facebook page.
Landus is highlighting rural businesses around the Midwest that demonstrate #TheLandusWay and illustrate the importance of rural business in a community. If you know a business with a Landus connection, email firstname.lastname@example.org.