Farmer Brothers Distill Grains into Profits

Will Glazik of Cow Creek Organic Farm and Silver Tree Beer & Spirits discusses his evolution from organic grain grower to distillery co-owner.

In Edible-Alpha podcast #119, Andy talks to Will Glazik of Cow Creek Organic Farm and Silver Tree Beer & Spirits in Paxton, Illinois. The fifth-generation farmer is building upon his family legacy with his own organic grain operation and vertically integrated distillery business.

Will’s parents transitioned Cow Creek Farm to organic in 2002, an anomaly in an area dominated by conventional row-crop agriculture. He went off to college, got an agronomy degree, and entered ag retail while still helping his father farm on the side. But selling chemical fertilizers and pesticides didn’t really jive with Will’s values. Instead, he enjoyed teaching area farmers how to save money and be more sustainable through cover-cropping, reduced tillage, integrative pest management, and eventually transitioning to organic.

Though he was a sought-after consultant, Will wanted to farm. But with ground costing up to $14,000 per acre in his county, purchasing land wasn’t the best option. Instead, by chance encounter, he met landowner Jackie Davis, who wanted to transition her ground to organic. The two hit it off, forged a 50/50 share crop agreement, and Will got to work, using $20,000 he’d saved up.

Going in, he thought he had all the answers, but he soon learned he did not. There were some tough years, but Jackie remained supportive. After working out the kinks, Will says they went “hog wild,” expanding their rotation to 14 crops, bringing in hogs and cattle, and dabbling in distilling. Combined with raising a young family, this was a recipe for burnout.

All along, Will just assumed that his specialty crop variety made him more profitable. But once he hired an accountant, he learned that wasn’t the case. In reality, the extra work required to grow some of those crops canceled out the profits. So he streamlined his operations, narrowed his crop assortment to six, and created a better work-life balance. Now, rather than acquiring more acreage, he’s trying to coax more profitability out of each acre—a smart move since growing grains isn’t Will’s only endeavor.

Already hobby brewers, he and his brothers founded Silver Tree Beer & Spirits in 2017 to turn their grains into beer, vodka and whiskey. They partnered with an established distiller to produce the vodka, then the Glaziks “busted their tails” trying to secure distribution. Will says the marketing part is tough, but they’ve learned a lot and built solid relationships. Meanwhile, they began aging their whiskey, ready for release this fall.

When their distiller decided to scale up, he sold his equipment to the Glaziks. Then last year they bought a fixer-upper in Paxton, gutted it, moved in the equipment, are now almost ready to start distilling. By owning every step from farm to bottle, their margins will balloon. Eventually, they’ll open tasting room and tour experience, which the town is thrilled about.

Tune into the full podcast to get the full story, including how Will and his brothers have financed their endeavors.