Ones to Watch 2015: Jenna PohlAge: 29
Why Watch Her: She puts Little Bo Peep to shame.
At 13, the daughter of Michigan dairy farmers fell in love with sheep and began showing lambs at 4-H club competitions. Several years after her 4-H eligibility came to an end, her business, Midwest Lamb, was born. Jenna Pohl came onto the scene in 2013, selling ground lamb, prime cuts like shanks and ribs and even whole racks at the Effingham Farmers Market in Illinois. She got a foot in the restaurant door when chef-owner Niall Campbell at Firefly in Effingham bought one of her whole lambs. Some 18 months later, Pohl’s lamb appears on dishes at The Block, Cleveland-Heath and Bacaro in Champaign. It’s Pohl peddling her meat at farmers markets on both sides of the river. And it’s Pohl tending her pasture-raised, grass-fed lambs on a farm in eastern Illinois.
On life after 4-H: It’s kind of like when you retire from the NFL. What do you do afterward? Some pro football players, they go into broadcasting. I was trying to figure out a way to still be involved. … I had a couple (lambs) and started to sell to kids who wanted to show. We had some left over that were still good lambs, but they didn’t make show quality. When you take them to the stockyards, you get pennies on the dollar for it. My boyfriend had the idea: “See if you can sell them at a farmers market or restaurant.”
On day one at the Effingham Farmers Market: It was like I showed up with sliced bread for the first time. … (The lamb) went like hotcakes.
On pasture-raising lambs: I like to raise animals as natural as possible. We don’t do electric fences. We do rotational grazing. They always have as much grass as they want, hay at all times. ... The moment you treat an animal like a pet, you have pet problems. ... Just let them be sheep.
On selecting lambs for slaughter: I have to be careful when I go into the butcher pen to not look at them. When you look at a sheep, they have the cutest faces. I try to be very business-like when I walk into that barn.
On why her lambs dress out at 90 pounds: The biggest difference in size is what ewe and ram they are of. It would be like an NFL football player and a WNBA star getting together and they’ll have an athlete. You breed mass and muscle together, you’re going to have a big-framed, massive, muscled-up sheep. That’s what we’re doing.
On selling to restaurants: These chefs know what they’re looking at. I can’t buffalo anybody. You’ve got a hanging lamb: They can see if that leg is big enough, if that rack is big enough. When I show up with a lamb, I want them to be impressed immediately: “Oh my gosh, this is great! This girl is legit.”
On being a one-woman show: I need to bust my keister while I can.