By Jennie Zeitler
Riverside Meats near Swanville processes beef, chickens and pork and wild game for both retail and custom orders.
Owner Wade Johnson grew up on the home place where the processing plant sits, two miles north of town. It’s the farm where his dad grew up and where his family moved back to in 1974.
After high school, Wade worked at the Long Prairie Packing Plant while developing a farm northeast of Swanville at the same time. He married LaRae Bruder, a Long Prairie native, and they raised five kids.
In about 1996, “I got tired of (the packing plant),” he said. “The locker plant in Browerville came up for sale and we bought it.”
The Johnsons processed custom orders there, but were not able to expand. After 10 years, they moved the business to Long Prairie.
“We were certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) so we could sell meats retail,” Wade said. “We took meats to farmers’ markets and sold them over the counter and to grocery stores. We had a coffee shop there.”
Two years later, the time was right to move their operation back to the home farm. Wade had bought the farm from his family following his dad’s death in 2006.
The Johnsons’ son, Josh, and his wife, Bonnie, moved into the old house in 2006. Wade and LaRae built a new house and moved in 2009.
“We added 30 feet to the machine shed,” Wade said. “We added an entry, a barrel room and a freezer out back.”
“This location — it’s home,” Wade said. “We could do what we do anywhere; we’d rather do it here.”
After being away 15 years, Wade went to an event in town the first day he was back. “Everyone was so friendly,” he said. “It’s a good town with good people.”
Josh raises steers on the 170-acre farm, which are sold through Riverside. He and Wade and LaRae do fieldwork. She also works with the steers.
“I like the country, and I like the farm,” said LaRae.
Wade and LaRae still have two kids at home, Kayla and Jacob. Two kids are married and live in Long Prairie, Andrea and Dana. Josh and Bonnie are raising their four kids on the farm, making it a four-generation farm.
When Bonnie set up the company’s website, she highlighted a Bible verse that echoes the “river” in Riverside, using Revelation 22:1 — “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb.”
“We are a Christian-owned business and we like to reflect that in everything we do, to be a blessing to people,” she said.
“Faith is the only reason I exist,” said Wade. “God has blessed our family.”
Three years ago, the Johnsons started processing chickens from May through October.
“We never had to advertise. Word of mouth spread the news fast and we process 700 to 1,000 per week, on two different days,” Wade said.
Riverside Meats can make 50 different types of sausages. They smoke ham, bacon and pork chops. The cooler also holds odds and ends such as suet, soup bones and dog bones.
Wade finds it interesting that he sells more meat retail “out here in the country than we ever did in Long Prairie. People started asking for it.”
As a USDA-inspected facility, an inspector is on-site each day.
Customers can bring in their meat or butchering can be done on the farm.
“We do it on the farm about two-thirds of the time,” said Wade. “It’s usually more convenient that way.”
“A lot of people really want the on-farm slaughtering,” said Bonnie.
The 26-foot by 26-foot cooler holds about 40 head of beef.
“We run out of hooks — happens every fall,” said Wade.
Riverside Meats also provides private labelling.
“I like supporting local farmers, using local hogs and beef and making all of our sausages,” said Bonnie. “We are happy to help any processor, manufacturer, or producer to grow in their business.”
For those looking for wild game processing, Riverside Meats offers caping.
The Johnsons generally work in a 60-mile circle around their facility, but it has been growing.
“We’ve been to Parkers Prairie, Pine River, Princeton and Litchfield,” said Wade.
“Except for that six-to-eight-week period in midwinter, I like to be outside,” he said. “I like going out on the farms.”