Middleman

Jim Hankes grew up on a Sugar Grove, Ill., farm with seven siblings. His father grew grain and raised livestock, and Hankes was an active member of local 4H clubs. He found­ed Thrushwood Farms Quality Meats in 1978. (Image by Lindsey Hankes)
Jim Hankes’ company, Thrushwood Farms Quality Meats, was “farm-to-table” long before it became a buzzword

James “Jim” Hankes, ’75 ACES, MA ’78 ACES, vividly remembers the day he wanted to have his own farming business.

He was about 7 years old, sitting up front in the cab of a semi, riding with his dad to the Chicago Stockyards. They were hauling cattle to sell at the infamous slaughterhouse. Hankes’ dad shared how, as a farmer, he was really a middleman, helping other people. Young James immediately piped up, “I’m going to be the middleman.”

Decades later, Hankes is most definitely the middleman as CEO of Thrushwood Farms Quality Meats in Galesburg, Ill., a company that combines Old World methodology with modern technology to prepare award-winning meats for local customers and private-label companies nationwide.

Thrushwood Farms was created at the kitchen table of his brother Ray’s house where the two brothers sketched out a diagram for a meat-processing plant. A year later, in 1978, they opened the doors of that plant.

Even in the early days, the company was innovative. “We were way ahead of our time; we were farm-to-table before it became a buzzword,” Hankes says.

Thrushwood Farms has grown from 14 full-time employees in 2012 to 44 full-time employees in 2017. The company is known for its summer sausage, bacon and snack sticks. Hankes’ three sons work for him.

He isn’t looking to retire any time soon. His greatest accomplishment? “I’m able to provide jobs to the community, top-notch products and ship across the country,” he says. “It feels really good.”