I recently had the great good fortune to interview Eric Rose of River Valley Ranch for Farmers’ Markets Today magazine. I had, in fact, been a fan of Rose’s products for some time (though only for a relatively small portion of his 34-year career), and I had suggested a story to the magazine, as it seemed like a great match. So late in February, I drove to Burlington, WI, to check out the farm, the store, and the tale behind Rose’s presence at so many of the area’s farmers’ markets.
When the article came out in print, there were loads of great photos, some of them ones I took. But, alas, the magazine has been shut down and the website to which I originally linked this post is also defunct, so I’ll post the original story below.
And just in case you want to visit the store, or would like to order some of their goodies online (everything is excellent, but I definitely recommend the 5-cheese garlic spread), here’s a link to River Valley Ranch—just in case you don’t live close to one of the many farmers’ markets here in the Midwest where Rose shows his wares each summer.
Business is Mushrooming
by Cynthia Clampitt
Eric Rose loves farmers’ markets-and with good reason. “Farmers’ markets turned my business around.” That business is growing mushrooms, something Rose began doing with his dad 34 years ago. Rose’s dad, Bill, a restaurant owner, had always been frustrated with how unreliable local sources of mushrooms were. When he sold the restaurant, he decided he could become the area’s one reliable supplier, and so was born River Valley Ranch in the Fox River Valley in Burlington, WI. “But dad didn’t want to just grow and supply mushrooms,” Rose notes. “He wanted to grow higher quality mushrooms than were generally available.”
Rose, who had also spent time in the restaurant business, “first got his hands in compost” in 1977. He was immediately hooked on the work, so he joined his dad in the venture. Rose says it was the beginning of a real education-and not just in farming. They originally sold to retailers. Their white mushrooms were better than anything else available, so they could charge a premium price. However, big commercial growers were discovering that preservatives and whiteners (because white mushrooms were pretty much the only mushrooms sold at the time) would let them get impressively handsome mushrooms to market, and at much lower prices than local growers.
Rose explains, “Back then, ‘local’ or ‘home-grown’ were red flags for wholesale buyers. The product must be inferior to things brought from far away, and so it should cost less. We couldn’t compete with the big commercial firms.”