I happen upon quite a few conversations every Saturday while making my rounds through the Winter Market. Most of those conversations are centered on local foods and what I appreciate most is that our local foodies are always interested in learning more about the products they are purchasing. The beauty of shopping at farmers markets, in my opinion, is that we have an opportunity to learn about the food we are purchasing from the growers and makers themselves. To me, it gives this particular food buying experience a special charm. I was making my third lap through the Champaign-Urbana Winter Farmers Market when I overheard one of our regular shoppers asking our newest vendor about their products. I walked over to the Harden Bison Ranch table and listened as Carol Harden explained how she uses various cuts of bison in her recipes at home and after drooling a little bit I decided to try one for myself.
Carol and her husband David invited me to Fairmount for a tour of Harden Bison Ranch and a week later I arrived at a stunning log home that I later learned David Harden designed himself. In fact, designing log homes was David’s career before following his dream of becoming a rancher. Harden Bison is a family owned and operated business that officially began when David and Carol purchased 4 bison in 2012. “My biggest fear when deciding to raise bison was what am I gonna do if they get out?” said David as we made our way towards the herd. “What DO you do if they get out?” I asked. “Well, they are trained to come to the sound of the treat bucket”. A treat bucket?
Sure enough, as David started banging the treat bucket all of his herd made their way towards the gate to get their goodies. When I say these babies are huge I mean it. Standing at 6 ft tall and 2000 pounds they really are a wonder to see up close. The lead bull was the most curious. He came close to my camera as if he were posing on purpose. I stared in awe as the rest of the herd snacked on their treats and ignored me completely.
Harden bison are grass-fed and raised together as a herd. “Our goal is to raise bison the way it was supposed to be done. Giving the animals the grass, clover, and land they are meant to have and watch them grow naturally”. The Harden family is dedicated to providing their bison with a lifestyle that is healthy for the animal and for their shoppers. No fertilizers, hormones, or antibiotics are used.
David, Carol, and their son Jacob are adding a store to their property this year and are excited for the growth of their business. The store will sit right next to the pastures where their bison roam. “There will be a small classroom that we will use to share the history of American Bison when we give tours.” says David. The Harden family offers hay rack rides, field trips, and more at the ranch. They will even sell Christmas trees for the 2021 holiday season. Learn more about cooking with bison when Carol shares one of her favorite recipes on CI Living next week!
Listening to David talk about the herd it was very clear that the Harden family is doing what they love. He not only knows his animals well but also has a deep respect for them. When we as a community choose to purchase from local small businesses it doesn’t just feed their business it feeds the dreams of people like the Hardens. People like you and I. People who just want an opportunity to do what they love.