by Hilary Rossow
Photos courtesy Blondies Butcher Shop
Blondies Butcher Shop blazes a trail for agricultural businesses.
Lindsey Loken grew up in Goodhue, Minn., the daughter of a veterinary technician and an entrepreneurial welder. Her mother had a reputation for healing lost causes, and many calves were left at their home when their owners were tired of trying to save them. Lindsey quickly became skilled at bringing these calves back with a concoction of her mother’s creation including raw eggs and whiskey fed via EG tube. One such calf earned her a class-winning purple ribbon at the county fair and a lifelong love of raising cattle.
Days after graduating high school, Lindsey set out to work with world-class horse trainers including Pat Parelli’s program in southern Colorado to learn his natural horsemanship techniques. One morning, Lindsey’s horse was saddled in the arena when the call of nature crept upon her. She ran for the facilities as her instructor yelled at her to plan better next time. When she rounded a corner, she slipped on some loose pea rock, and fell comically between the boots of Bill Galt. Bill was visiting from his ranch in Montana, and after scooping Lindsey off the ground, he decided to watch her ride (after she returned to the arena, of course!). Bill offered Lindsey a job at the Galt Ranch that day.
Lindsey found herself on horseback covering nearly 100,000 acres and caring for over 4,000 head of Angus cattle as well as cow-bred Quarter Horses. The Galt Ranch was recently featured on a Discovery Plus series, “Last American Cowboy,” and it shows that, while dramatized, the hit series, “Yellowstone,” is a fairly accurate depiction of ranching among the Rocky Mountains of central Montana.
As a skilled horsewoman, she returned to Minnesota to help a successful Halter Quarter Horse outfit campaign their horses at regional and national shows. The horses she worked with earned two national championships as well as many top 10 honors.
The show world’s darker side weighed heavily on her, so she decided to enroll in a paramedic class in Wyoming and spent nearly eight years as a first responder in the Big Horn Mountains. After encountering even more darkness in the form of her patients’ widespread drug abuse and suicide attempts, her father told her the butcher shop in town was for sale during a phone call.
Becoming a Butcher
After some investigating, her family decided it was a good investment. Lindsey had some butchering experience from her time at the Galt Ranch, but she threw herself into learning from all available resources about making sausage, cutting premium retail cuts of beef and pork, and processing deer, goats, and sheep.
At a sausage making course at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, she met Harvey Pfannenstein from St. Joseph Meats who invited her to his shop in St. Cloud, Minn., to apprentice for a week. She was put on the saw and taught to cut steaks for high-end steak houses like Hell’s Kitchen and Manny’s. She was nervous, but her teachers were forgiving, and she never made the same mistake twice. During her courses, Lindsey took meticulous notes with drawings and specific instructions. “I still refer to it and add to it,” Lindsey said.
Blondies Butcher Shop was known as “Wanamingo Meats” since 1934, but the new ownership had many locals rechristening the shop, “Blondies.” “My nickname, whether I liked it or not, has always been ‘Blondie.’ The local retired farmers would drop a beef and go to coffee and say they dropped a beef at ‘Blondies.’ From there it spiraled. Customers started writing checks out to ‘Blondies’… it wasn’t going to stop so we renamed the shop,” Lindsey laughed.
When she bought the locker on the north end of Main Street, she was welcomed as a business owner. The local customers were forgiving of her early mistakes, and Lindsey ensured mistakes were only made once and created each as an opportunity to learn and adjust. The air circulation system was replaced early in her ownership and purple lights were added, both dramatically helping the aging process.
The Pink Difference
One of the most striking components of Blondies Butcher Shop is the copious use of hot pink in signage, packaging, and marketing. The ground beef and pork chubs are packaged in hot pink plastic bags and the walls are the same color while a pink and black Holstein statue greets customers outside. “Pink isn’t even my favorite color, but it works great for the shock-and-awe factor,” Lindsey said.
Ag Helping Ag
Like most industries, the recent pandemic had profound impact on Blondies Butcher Shop. As a compassionate person, Lindsey did not hesitate when asked for help. Many producers were forced to hold hogs that were ready to go to slaughter. One of her longtime friends called shortly after his load of finished hogs was turned around en route to the packing plant. A rash of COVID-19 positive tests had put processing on hold at the plant, and there was no capacity for his load. Lindsey told him to sort the heaviest animals out and bring them to her shop.
The story of producers and local businesses banding together to overcome issues created by COVID-19 became a viral Facebook post, and National Geographic travelled to Wanamingo to document the effects of the pandemic on small, agricultural towns. Capturing Shutdown in America’s Heartland showcased the shuttered businesses and low traffic on the streets while riots and anarchy reigned in Minneapolis a few dozen miles away. A payloader was brought to the middle of Main Street with a beef carcass and a pork carcass hanging from it to capture a unique photo depicting the importance of the continuation of small businesses in rural America.
Using Her Resources
Early alignments with Dr. Ryan Cox from the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Beef, and longtime friends from the community ensured her business hit the ground running the right way. “Royalee Rhoads (of Minnesota Beef) has been instrumental in connecting me to resources and helping me promote the beef and pork industries,” Lindsey explained. Lindsey has also enrolled in the beefSD program, which consists of six intense educational seminars over two years designed to help beef producers take their enterprises to the next level.
Lindsey strives to be innovative in her business and her promotion of production agriculture. She created a fundraiser program for clubs and organizations including beef sticks, summer sausage, Christmas prime rib roasts, Easter hams, and snack bundles. Many 4-H clubs, FFA chapters, and sports teams have had great success with the concept. “People can only buy so many rolls of wrapping paper. I wanted to do something that would allow kids to promote protein while helping their organizations,” Lindsey said.
Blondies Butcher Shop has hosted several tours for FFA chapters, 4-H clubs, and Ag classes. The students observe skinning, eviscerating, primal cutting, sausage making, and retail cutting as well as the retail process. The attendees generally find the tours interesting and informative, and Lindsey believes the inside glimpse of the work involved in producing food is important for young people.
In addition to her support of many nonprofits and youth programs, Lindsey has joined the speaking circuit. She speaks to industry groups about promoting protein, direct marketing, and many meat science related topics. “The world is loud, and agriculture is always under attack. Telling the story is almost as important as the production of our food, especially with the growing disconnect in younger age groups,” Lindsey explained.
Lindsey has also collaborated with two other agvocates, Natasha Mortenson and Rebekkah Paskewitz, to create a podcast, “Keeping It Rural Girls.” The trio presented their podcast to the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council (MAELC) Common Fund Grant to secure grant funding and were ecstatic to learn their efforts would be rewarded. “We are really excited to promote the diversity of ag and help teachers have more accessible information with applied lesson plans at their disposal,” Lindsey stated.
“Keeping It Rural Girls” has recorded several episodes that will be released around October 1. Subjects include wild rice farming, interviews with Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Duane Wulf, motivational speakers, ag policy advocates and experts, turkey farming, and cranberry production with more to come. Each episode features casual conversations with producers with question-and-answers plus stories, current issues, and anecdotes. The podcast may be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other major media platforms. Classrooms across Minnesota may access the podcasts along with lesson plans for free because of the grant, and those in other states may purchase the plans for a small fee.
In addition to the fundraising program and the podcast, Blondies Butcher Shop will soon launch a website and begin shipping beef and pork nationwide. Currently, Blondies offers 15 varieties of beef sticks, 4 types of bacon, and a wide range of retail cuts of beef and pork.
The future is bright for Blondies as many more protein promotion ventures are planned and the demand for locally raised and harvested meat increases. Most people in rural communities are disposed to patronizing small businesses in their communities, and traceability in sourcing food is increasingly important to Americans. These factors ensure lockers across the United States have a place on main streets and every opportunity to succeed. “This work is an art and it’s hard. Knowing we are making a difference in our communities, educating the younger generations, and spreading the truth about agriculture at the end of the day is what it’s all about,” Lindsey said.
Lindsey certainly took the long way just to find herself back in her hometown. Her life experiences, both good and bad, have helped her become uniquely qualified to deal with the adversity all producers and agriculture businesses encounter. Her ability to defend agriculture to critics while operating a successful business and helping youth understand the origins of their food make her an exceptional agvocate.
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