Wisconsin producers proud to sell home-grown, home-raised products in food tent

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Wisconsin Bison Producers Association President Robert Holcomb started out his bison operation with just 10 animals. Today, Great Bison Northern Ranch near Stratford, Wis. is home to over Our farm is located in Stratford Wisconsin under Great norther 50 animals with 16 more expected this spring.

People traveling to farm shows across the state count on several things: new and innovative farm products to see, interesting and knowledgeable people to talk to and good food to eat.

In the 60 years the WPS Farm Show has been running, products grown and raised by Wisconsin farmers have been featured on the menu. This year is no different. Staffing the food tent will be the Wisconsin Cattlemen's Association, The Winnebago County Holstein Association, Wisconsin Pork Association, Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Auxiliary, Wisconsin Bison Producers Association and a variety of cheese curds.

Robert Holcomb, president of the Wisconsin Bison Producers Association says while visiting Jackson Hole, WY over seven years ago, his family fell in love with bison. Starting off with just 10 animals on his farm in Stratford, Wis., his herd has grown to over 50 animals with more coming this spring.

Holcomb's organization has been manning the food stand at the WPS Farm Show for the past decade.

Wisconsin Bison Producers Association President Robert Holcomb raises bison on his Great Bison Northern Ranch near Stratford, Wis. , and says there's nothing greater than getting out among the large animals, watching them graze on natural grass like they had done in the 1800s.

"We feel it’s a fantastic opportunity to get the community knowing more about the delicious taste of Bison," he said, adding that visitors will have that opportunity with bison burgers and bison burritos on the menu.

Not only is the meat tasty, Holcomb says the meat from the large creatures is healthy too.

"It's the leanest  and highest protein meat on the planet. It has more vitamins per ounce than any other meat, seafood, or poultry products," he said. "A lot of people think the meat would naturally be very gamey tasting and they are pleasantly surprised at the full flavor that it provides in a much sweeter taste."

Holcomb says the state is home to approximately 70 bison operations with producers selling their products via their own websites, farmers markets, restaurants, and wholesale in stores. "We have many producers also sell straight from their farm as well," he said.

While Holcomb looks forward to feeding guests in the food tent, he hopes to educate them as well. The large, shaggy-furred creatures are not called buffalo but rather American bison. "There are no buffalo left in the United States," he said.

Sally Surprise, left, of Rural Mutual Insurance, inspects potatoes grown by Clint and Carole Gagas at Gagas Farms Inc., near Stevens Point, Wis.

One potato, two potato

Since he was a young boy, Clint Gagas has worked with potatoes. Following in his grandfather and then father's footsteps, the Portage County potato grower is proud to promote the starchy, vitamin-packed vegetable. 

For well over a decade, Clint has teamed up with his wife, Carole Gagas to staff the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Auxiliary booth at the Wisconsin State Farm as well as the WPS Farm Show.

While Carole lines up the volunteer workers, Clint solicits donations of french fries and home-grown potatoes from state growers and processors. 

"When we first started out, we just sold baked potatoes. People kept asking for French fries, but you can't use a deep fryer in a tent for safety reasons. I experimented using a convection oven, and today we have two and are able to offer both baked potatoes and oven baked fries," Clint said. "McCain from Plover, Wis., supplies the fries and growers from across the state take turns donating the baking potatoes."

Started in 1931, Clint Gagas is the third generation to run Gagas Farms Inc.,  a potato growing operation covering nearly 2000 acres near Stevens Point, Wis.

In 2019, Gagas estimates they sold around two dozen 30 lb. cases of fries and cooked up nearly 650 lbs. of Russet potatoes. Carole says to ensure the potatoes don't become mushy as the day goes on, the big, foil-wrapped spuds - nearly 11.5 oz. in weight - are baked two-thirds of the way through and then stored in insulated containers while they finish cooking via the steam.

"The last potatoes are served around 4 p.m. and they're just as hot, as potatoes hold the heat really well," Carole says. "On cold days, we entice buyers to purchase potatoes just to put in their pockets to warm up their hands!"

The couple say show-goers are invited to embellish the meal-sized potatoes by topping them with sour cream, butter, salsa, chili or nacho cheese.

"I think we've done so well over the years because we're the only ones selling potatoes while the rest are meat groups," Carole said.

Clint says he enjoys working the stand, which is dubs his "working vacation" before things heat up on the home operation, Gagas Farms Inc., founded in 1931.

2022 WPS Farm Show food vendor menu