Siouxland Stories: Taking the butcher business on the road

Siouxland Stories

(KCAU) — When the pandemic was hitting the hardest, meatpackers slowed their operations, putting a big kink in the supply chain. As producers turned to commercial lockers for relief, small operations were left with few options. However, one Siouxland family is offering a new way of keeping meat on the table.

Curtis Van Grouw cuts and wraps meat like most butchers.

“Somewhere along the line, a seed was planted to get into the butcher business,” said Van Grouw. “Initially it was very overwhelming.”

And that makes sense since he and his wife are doing what only one other business is licensed to do in the entire state of Iowa.

“Ya know, you talk with some of the older farmers, and they talk about having a butcher come to their farm growing up,” Van Grouw said.

Call it a return to yesteryear, and this mobile butcher business couldn’t have come at a better time.

“There was a large demand before and then just got escalated when the pandemic came along,” Curtis said.

“I get a lot of calls.  But I’m a one man show, and I end up saying no more than I say yes,” Van Grouw.

It is the first of two road trips Van Grouw will make on this sunny day.

“He [Will Warntjes] has a 1,400-pound heifer fat and ready to be slaughtered. Get the process started,” Van Grouw said.

“It’s good for the kids,” says farmer Will Warntjes. “Just getting them started with chores so for them to see, whether our plate or someone else’s these animals are for meat for food they are not pets.  Not doing this every day for nothing. It is going to feed somebody.”

“It’s something new, people are intrigued by it. It’s something different,” said Van Grouw.

This comes at a time when traditional butcher shops are backed up with business for months.

“If you call, they say next year at the earliest.  A year out, it’s so far out we can’t schedule that far out,” Warntjes said. 

“You are killing something. You are taking a life,” says Van Grouw. “These animals are a gift to us and it’s our job to be good stewards as far as the farmers to the butchers and how we do everything.”

“Ya know it took me a while to get into butcher shape. Ya kind of use your muscles that haven’t been used in a while,” Curtis said.

His knives constantly sharpened. Cleanliness is critical.

“This water is 180 degrees so sterilizing and keeping the carcass as clean as possible is very important,” Curtis said.

After a few hours of hard work, a 1,400-pound animal produces roughly 550 pounds of quality beef.

“You can tell is they have been feeding it good just by how much fat the animal has,” said Van Grouw. “But everyone is different it’s always interesting to see.”

“Ya know the heavy lifting is done,” said Curtis. “Always good feeling when it gets in the truck.”

Another job complete.

“This is by far my favorite part even though it is more physically demanding.  It’s fun going to farmers, most hang around and watch see what they hard work has turned into,” Curtis said.

And that takes us back to where this story started.

At Old Parlor Meat Company near Rock Valley, fresh meat hangs for days and weeks before being cut and packaged for the producer.

“There are some people who don’t know how it gets from the farm to the store and my wife and I are trying to do some of the social media educational side of it too.  That has been fun to interact with consumers who have not seen this side of it before,” said Van Grouw.

“Growing up on a farm, it’s a big part of who I am,” he adds.

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