Emmett Rodriguez of Stillwater, Minnesota, confers with friends to make an order at RJ’s Meat truck while at a local festival. The truck, owned by a Hudson Knight of Columbus, offers local organizations an opportunity to raise money. (Submitted photo)

Joe Winter
Special to the Catholic Herald

What is a social justice-based fundraiser that aids both church and community groups, and at the same time provides award-winning, inexpensive gourmet food, and helps local and regional farmers and the environment?

Enter RJ’s Meat and Groceries and their longtime food truck. Owner Rick Reams, an active and decorated local Knight of Columbus, along with his wife, Anne, has operated this shop for decades in Hudson, and the stand isn’t run on just any given Sunday, as that’s morning church time for the owners. However, because of a whole team of volunteer workers, it is open in early hours for the rest of each weekend all summer and at least one month before and after.

This is one of the most creative ways around to have a Knights fundraiser, agreed Russ Jensen, also of St. Patrick’s, who organizes the volunteer scheduling. The stand doles out many hundreds of pounds of meat every year. The dozens of volunteers say they enjoy the experience, making it a parish-wide and community event. Some of those working the stand are from other area churches.

One who was on duty recently, from a local Lutheran church but knowing some of the parishioners at St. Patrick’s, volunteered on behalf of the Friends of Perch Lake, which works to keep the lake pristine and provide recreational opportunities.

RJ’s is more than a retail butcher shop. The store also offers products for wholesale purchase by other retail stores, restaurants, churches and community groups – just about anyone using food, their website says.

The food stand has many stewardship purposes. There is a definite social justice component, as the gourmet food is not pricey compared to most meat markets, or even some grocery stores, meaning it is affordable to even those on a tight budget, and at the same time provides healthful nutrition to them, Jensen said. He agreed that being environmentally and animal friendly, and supporting local and also regional farmers and especially those who use best conservation measures is an attraction, as is the diverse number of organizations that benefit from the proceeds.

In this era where many people want their foods gluten- and antibiotics-free, and the animals free range, RJ’s stresses that their products meet that standard and the practices for growing used by their suppliers also aid the earth, while at the same time giving value to the fields from which they came and enabling them to be replenished.

They buy meat from small farms, locally and in Iowa and Minnesota, that manage their own day-to-day operations. Reams adds their pork, like the other meats, is high quality and hand selected, tender and juicy, fresh and safe, six vital qualities that gain such recognition for only one of 10 shops. Their cuts are handmade and the signature meats are aged a minimum of 14 days, which means they are 29 percent more flavorful, Reams explains.

They have won hundreds of awards. The shop boasts 48 gold medals from international butchering competitions, three golds from state fairs as grand champion, and six added firsts in like contests, making for multiple prominent honors in most years. Their facility works regularly with several USDA representatives to ensure quality.

The easily transportable food truck is just coming off an extended weekend at the Booster Days festival in downtown Hudson’s Lake Front Park, where on a particularly busy afternoon and evening full of live music, they were staffed by members of a local Boy Scout troop. Fewer than two weeks later, as another summer staple, they always trek across St. Croix County to Glenwood City for the county fair.

The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week, with the truck serving ala carte on weekends when it is not traveling, late April through October, open in the parking lot until the late afternoon. They are closed on Sundays.