Vendors at the Beloit Farmers Market continue to grow their businesses and expand their outreach.
Darlene Pinnow of Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms LLC, just north of Delavan, sells lamb meat at the market. Natalie Folk of Dakota, Illinois, offers items made from alpaca fleece. Noel Illkow of Crystal lake, Illinois, has been a beekeeper all of her life.
"We've been there forever," Darlene Pinnow said of the farm that she and Steve Pinnow operate. "We've been direct marketing lamb for 20 years," she said recently on a Saturday morning.
As demand for the meat grew, the Pinnows realized they needed to expand their business and they built their own processing plant on their property. The plant is USDA inspected and employs four professionally trained people who do the processing, Darlene Pinnow said.
"We were fortunate when we opened the plant to have butchers train our guys. It's an art, you know," she said. "We processed 3,000 lambs last year. The business has been growing and growing."
The meat goes to restaurants, hospitals, culinary schools and more, she said. They serve Wisconsin, northern Illinois and also will ship orders all over the country.
As far as being at the Beloit Farmers Market, "We are testing the water," she said, to gage interest in their products.
One reason the cuts are popular is because lamb has less cholesterol and more of the good omegas than other meat choices, she said. Those cuts include roasts, chops, legs, ground meat, stew meat and spare ribs.
Natalie Folk has 30 alpacas at her place and is boarding 15 more for people, she said.
Originally, a trip she and her husband took to Prairie du Chien piqued her interest in the animals as they drove by a property and saw them outside.
"Seven years later, we got our first boys, we went to Ohio to get the alpacas," she said. "At first, I just wanted them to mow the lawn."
But that changed.
"Since 2010, I've been breeding them. We started with three and now have 30," Folk said.
That also means caring for them such as shearing the fleece, trimming their toenails and trimming razor sharp back teeth on the males.
"They are friendly; they will smell your hand, but they are not friendly like a dog," Folk said.
At the market, she sells scarves, hats, socks, yarn, shawls roping, stuffed pillows and more.
"I crochet and I have a lady who spins for me and I am buying a loom," she said.
In the future, there might be an international market for the fleece products she produces.
"I've been told China wants the fiber," Folk said.
Noel Illkow, of Nonies Bees, drives about 90 minutes to get to the Beloit Farmers Market on Saturdays but says she enjoys the ride on country roads. Her sister also lives in Beloit, so she gets to spend time with her.
Her life as a beekeeper began when her grandfather came to the states from Switzerland and she helped him with his apiary.
Later, she started her own. She also teaches environmental education in the McHenry County Schools.
"One of my favorite parts of my job is teaching pollination and the importance of bees," Illkow said.
At the market, she sells infused honey.
"I have cinnamon, lemon, raspberry and garlic/chili. I also make beeswrap, which is a sustainable solution to plastic wrap," she said.
Illkow said she uses honey for most everything, including baking with it instead of sugar, in tea, in yogurt, on salmon, in oatmeal and for coughs and sore throats.
"Bees are such beautiful, prolific insects," she said. "They are so giving and what is truly wonderful is it is all about the survival of the hive. There is no ego in hive."