by Jessie Doig ’09
Finding one’s vocation is something many Gustavus students and alumni emphasize as an important aspect of self-actualization and fulfillment in life. Some graduates leave Gustavus with a clear plan for their life; others choose to be surprised by the path on which life takes them and hope for the best.
Gustavus alumnus Abby Andrusko ’00 fits in the latter category. Her path to becoming a small business owner came about through many twists and turns until she found herself combining a passion with a product of which she could be proud.
Last year, Andrusko and her husband, Marcus, took a chance to open a family-run small business in Edina, Minn. Like its commercial neighbor, Lund’s grocery store, Andrusko’s business, the Grass Fed Cattle Company, is a centrally located Edina shop that offers food products. Unlike Lund’s, Andrusko’s business specializes in a very specific food product: 100 percent local grass-fed beef.
Andrusko claims to have come into small business ownership with the Grass Fed Cattle Company by chance. She was never highly interested in business or economics and never initially sought out to become an entrepreneur. In fact, Andrusko graduated from Gustavus with a bachelor of arts degree in Spanish.
Like so many other liberal arts students, Andrusko doesn’t believe it was her major or the educational part of her Gustavus education that was crucial to helping her become the small business owner she is today. Instead, she credits what she calls the entire “Gustavus experience” with jump-starting her on a path to finding her true vocational calling.
Andrusko first visited Gustavus with her mother and felt an immediate connection to the campus and the St. Peter area. Graduating from Burnsville High School, Andrusko felt at home at Gustavus because of the school’s size and proximity to her hometown. Being an only child in a single-parent family, Andrusko felt Gustavus was close enough to home to be able to stay connected with her mother, but also had the small and supportive community she was looking for in a school.
In reflecting on her reasons to attend Gustavus, Andrusko says she felt that she could be really involved and included in everything that was going on. Because she wanted to have a presence on campus and get involved with many different activities, she found Gustavus to be a great fit.
While at Gustavus, Andrusko says she was able to come out of her shell and became a lot more confident in herself. She made lifelong friends and created lasting support networks with students and professors with whom she became really close. She credits the small Gustavus environment with helping her to “become somebody.”
Says Andrusko, “The way people take care of each other and encourage each other at Gustavus probably has a lot to do with how I am today. I am not afraid to be a risk taker and step out of who I am and have a dream.”
After graduation Andrusko says she was ready to move on and found it a blessing that she came out of school not knowing exactly what she was going to do; her options were open. She knew Gustavus had provided her with the tools to be successful and felt extremely well-rounded as a result of her Gustavus experience.
The confidence she had developed over her time at Gustavus led her to try many different types of jobs following graduation. In her first year out of school, Andrusko moved to the southern United States to take a job working with mentally disabled adults. The following year, she spent some time traveling and working with a Christian group, Youth Encounter.
Andrusko’s two years of adventures living in the southern states eventually led her back home to Minnesota. She took a job with the South St. Paul school district as a cultural liaison within the district’s ECFE program. It was this job that she held, and enjoyed, until she began the Grass Fed Cattle Company last year.
A Light at the End of the Path
Andrusko’s Christian faith played a big part in her path and leading her to where she is today. After her marriage to Marcus Andrusko, the two began operating a non-profit camp ministry out of Ely, Minn., called the Boundary Waters Experience. The camp’s mission is to take groups through the boundary waters and facilitate week-long canoeing trips with a small group of campers. This nature experience provides clients with the opportunity to grow closer to God and their fellow campers through the beauty of the natural world.
The Grass Fed Cattle Company originated when Andrusko had a revelation while working at their family-run non-profit camp in Ely. Andrusko had been buying meats in bulk to provide meals for campers. As she was becoming more involved with the camp ministry meals, she was also beginning to make lifestyle changes at home in the ways she ate and fed her family. She had been learning more and more about healthful food choices after becoming pregnant with her first child and had begun buying healthful organic foods for her family.
Andrusko says she felt conflicted eating one way at home and feeding camp participants differently. She explains, “It’s just knowing that the way food is processed today isn’t really normal, and we were feeding it to our campers. . . . We realized we needed to hold ourselves accountable.”
After accepting the need to change the foods offered at the camp, Andrusko realized it was a struggle to find the types of food (especially meats) in bulk for her camp. Of course, naturally raised meats were available; the problem was finding an affordable option.
To solve this problem, Andrusko began researching and connecting with farmers near the metro area to find a way to buy naturally raised meat at affordable prices. Not surprisingly, many farmers were willing to do business with her.
Once she solidified her connection with many farmers who raised grass-fed cattle, Andrusko took it one step further and decided to make the camp’s grass-fed local beef products a viable option for other consumers throughout the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. With the rising trend of organic and health-food initiatives, Andrusko’s venture has been successful; she has customers from Edina, Minneapolis, Lake Minnetonka, Shakopee, and even from across the state border in Hudson, Wis.
“With our business we are trying to pair convenience and affordability with a natural local product, or one that can’t be found in grocery stores,” says Andrusko. The business works with three family farms located within 150 miles of the Twin Cities in cooperation with Andrusko’s own family to bring the product to the Minneapolis and St. Paul area.
In addition to providing a local product with a label that says exactly where the meat comes from, Andrusko encourages her customers to get involved with the food-buying process by taking time to get out to farms and connect with the farmers and livestock involved. Andrusko believes this is an important part to food buying because it helps her customers to really understand where their food is coming from. Andrusko’s 100 percent local beef is produced so that people know their source. They are getting their meats from the same cow, or cows, and the same farm.
Says Andrusko, “People who shop in the grocery stores know that their food comes from somewhere else…but they don’t think about it or know about the process. They are satisfied with the explanation that it comes from the grocery store.”
Home and Business Intersect
Andrusko’s holistic approach to healthful living in her business easily carries over into her personal life. Because her business partner is her husband, healthful living and choosing the right foods have become a family lifestyle. In essence, the way she lives is exactly what she promotes in her work every day.
Andrusko makes a clear point about how important food education is, and she works to educate others, especially her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Selah, on the health benefits and importance of consuming grass-fed beef.
“We talk business a lot at our house and on our daily family walks. [Selah] hears a lot about beef, the benefits of grass-fed beef and enjoys being included.”
And according to Andrusko, the benefits of grass-fed cattle are clear for both humans and animals. “The cows are eating what they are created or designed to eat. They don’t get sick often or need the antibiotics that come with feeding them corn. The farmers I work with are not interested in fattening them up faster and they aren’t confined to feed lots. The cattle can spend time in one pasture and then move on to another pasture,” Andrusko clarified.
She believes that grass-fed cattle’s beef has leaner fat content in comparison to feed lot cattle, which are fed corn and given added hormones for muscle growth. In addition, Andrusko stresses that grass fed cattle have been proven to be higher in vitamin E and in omega 3 fatty acids, elements that are good for the human body.
In addition to educating people about the health benefits of grass fed cattle, Andrusko is an advocate of holistic sustainable living and strives to continue her education about health choices. She stresses the importance of seasonality and using the locally grown foods when they are in season.
Says Andrusko, “It has to do with going back to the way things used to be. No, it’s not an extravagant way of living, but people need to relearn the importance of growing a garden and buying a big freezer. . . . We have to realize that making the right healthful decision is not going to always be the most convenient.”