The farm that put Eau Claire on the horseradish map

A tour of the world’s largest horse radish farm.


Dietrich Schwoerer

The Huntsinger Farms sign as you enter in.

Dietrich Schwoerer

The Huntsinger Farms sign as you enter. (Dietrich Schwoerer)

As I was researching the history of eateries in Eau Claire for a class, I stumbled across an article proclaiming Eau Claire to be the world’s horseradish capital.

My initial reaction was doubt.

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of this before. My surprise continued as my research led me to Huntsinger Farms and Silver Springs Foods.

After Ellis Huntsinger, a young lighting rod salesman fell on hard times, Huntsinger Farms was created in 1929. Now, the farm employs 7,000 archers in Wisconsin and another 2,000 in northern Minnesota.

I contacted Silver Springs Foods because I was intrigued by this assertion. After a few emails, Shawn Kapanke, the Silver Springs Business Development Manager, agreed to tour the farm and lead me through the horseradish-making process.

This is my experience in discovering and unpacking the horseradish capital.

Kapanke greeted me at the doors of what appeared to be the oldest barn on the property. The building turned out to be approximately 100 years old. Nowadays, the structure serves as the first stop for freshly picked horseradish.

While touring the old barn, Kapanke introduced me to their company motto: “keep it cold to keep it hot.”

I asked him to explain what it meant, and he told me that he was going to have me try the raw crop at the end. That way I’ll get a full understanding of what he means.

Inside the barn, two football field-sized coolers can store up to four million pounds of horseradish. But Kapanke preferred to start at the beginning. So, we drove a mile farther up the road.

Two brand new barns sit on a 270-acre tract of land off Wisconsin Highway 37, just south of the city. During the off-season, one of these houses included John Deere and other farming equipment. The other is the maintenance shop’s new location.

Kapanke showed me an aerial picture of the field we had just visited. It played host to Wisconsin Farm Tech Days, one of the largest agricultural shows in Wisconsin.

“In 2021, this was the location of Wisconsin Farm Tech Days,” Kapanke said. “It was three years of planning, and afterward it took nearly a year to get the soil back to normal and ready for planting.”

Kapanke told me that he was proud of the team’s efforts in putting on such a successful event.

Almost 50,000 people attended the event, but when asked if he would conduct Farm Tech Days again, Kapanke replied, “it depends. We’re not against hosting Farm Tech Days, but there is a lot of work that goes into that process, two to three years of planning, so we’ll see.”

We returned to the original farms to go through the process of removing extraneous things by chopping off stems and washing the horseradish before it went into cold storage for up to six months.

The Huntsinger farmer’s home on the ranch. (Dietrich Schwoerer)

That’s where I met Ken Traaseth, Vice President of Agricultural Operations, finishing unloading a semi-load of horseradish that came down from Bemidji, Minnesota. He was parking a wheel loader they use to separate the crop from others that were grown.

I asked Traaseth how frequently the two refrigerators fill up and how long they last.

“We fill up this here cold locker and that should last us through the winter, but some years it gets tight,” Traaseth said. “We have about 70 semi-loads up there and have moved about 30 of them down here. That means about 40 more trips to go.”

Silver Springs produces 70% of the horseradish required to meet demand. The remaining 30% originates from a collection of smaller farms in southern Illinois, Kapanke explained.

“We do that so if we have a bad harvest year, we still have enough horseradish to make it through,” Kapanke said. “It also allows us to make a more constant product year-round. We have over 9,000 acres of farmland. In each plot, you’ll get a different tasting crop, so we take some from each plot, plus some that we buy to have a consistent product all the time.”

Across town, the horseradish is cleaned, cooked, ground, mixed with salt brine and vinegar, packaged into over 30 various-sized containers, and transported to consumers worldwide.

Silver Springs’ specialty mustards, cocktail sauces, and co-packing are also made at the processing plant. There is always something going on, with over 100 million pounds of goods moving through it.

I even tried a new product that had not yet entered the market. I’m unsure if I can reveal what that is, but I know I’ll buy it when it reaches the shelves.

I was amazed when we walked through the warehouse’s automated bottling department. They were producing hundreds of bottles every minute and 500 sauce packets at a time.

“We’re passionate about horseradish,” Kapanke said. “My goal has been how do we get more horseradish on the market. I want to go to every manufacturing plant and sell industrial horseradish. If you make a dressing with horseradish, I want to be your supplier.”

A truck delivery at Huntsinger Farms. (Dietrich Schwoerer)

Just before we left the farm, Kapanke broke off a piece of a raw stem. He said everyone he gives a tour must try a piece of raw horseradish. I politely declined, but he insisted and popped a small part in his mouth.

His reaction was similar to that of a youngster trying a lemon head for the first time, with large eyes followed by squinting and mouth-watering.

I was stunned.

After that reaction, he handed me a piece to try. I tried to wiggle my way out of it, but I didn’t want to be known as the one guy who didn’t try the horseradish.

I plunged my teeth into the raw crop and began chewing. I immediately understood what he meant regarding the heat. My mouth caught fire for about 30 seconds before it went out.

But the burn was gone as quickly as it came.