Mueller returns to farming after 30-year hiatus
By EMILIE THIESSEN, Staff Writer
Rich Mueller was never big into organic farming, but he always believed in eating right.
“When I was a kid in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we ate like kings — we ate better than the kings,” Mueller said. “We had vast spreads of garden vegetables and beef, eggs, chicken and milk from our own farm. People have lost that. People don’t eat that well any more.”
Mueller owns and operates KR Organic farm just outside of Regal with his wife Katie. Though Mueller grew up on a farm, he and Katie took up other careers as young adults, and in their mid-50s are only now returning to farming.
Mueller was in construction for 30 years, but decided to get back into farming and purchased an already existing 305-acre organic farm (previously the William Keller Ranch) two-and-a-half years ago. Mueller said the transition went smoothly, much in part to the extensive help and advice from his neighbors.
“One of the biggest challenges was my mechanical ineptitude,” he said. “Without my neighbors, I would have almost been lost.”
Mueller and his wife specialize in grass-fed angus beef cattle, a group of cows that Mueller said are very happy cows. The cattle roam free on large pastures and are primarily grass fed, though Mueller said he finishes the cows off with a bit of oats and barley to better the taste of the final meat product.
“Cows are ruminants. They are meant to eat roughage, grass and hay,” he said. “We think we have all the benefits of organic; we still have most of the benefits of grass-fed and a very good product.”
KR Organic is a certified organic farm, meaning all land, crops, cattle and practices are considered organic. Mueller said independent agents come to annually certify the land and animals, and strict records have to be kept to track everything they buy and sell, ensuring all practices are organic.
Mueller said that although being certified isn’t absolutely necessary, the label ultimately helps the consumer.
“There are other people who call themselves natural and organic, but if they are not certified, the consumer doesn’t have any proof of that,” Mueller said. “But that doesn’t mean the farm is not organic and doing a very good job.”
Most of the beef from KR Organic is sold to Organic Valley, a farmer
cooperative based out of Wisconsin that strives to “support rural communities by protecting the health of the family farm, working toward both economic and environmental sustainability.”
As a coop, all profits go to the member farmers, employees of Organic Valley and the community. According to Organic Valley, being an organic farmer is promoting a philosophy and system of production that mirrors the natural laws of living organisms.
Organic Valley outlines multiple reasons for choosing organic foods like increased nutrient density, the elimination of pesticide and synthetic fertilizers, the elimination of growth or breeding hormones and the elimination of antibiotics.
The market for organic, grass-fed beef is still quite small, Mueller said, but he hopes to see more people return to that lifestyle. Mueller said he believes all area farmers work very hard and produce great food — both organic and non-organic — but truly believes in the nutritional value of food that is raised or grown with
increased attention and care.
“It costs a little bit more in the short term, but in the terms of your life, you may be well ahead by eating organically,” he said. “I hope the consumers see the light.”