The Ranch Foods Direct: An Alternative Food System For Smaller Farmers
Categories: On The Farm
Individual organic farmers, ranchers, and local food suppliers have traditionally faced a supply chain vacuum, says CEO and cattle rancher Mike Callicrate -- but that's about to change, because a new store model is opening their doors. "The Ranch Foods Direct" is an alternative food system for smaller farmers to sell their products.
A key motivator: Today's increasing consumer demand for hormone-free, pesticide-free, GMO-free food. "That's why we're in the process of building an alternative food delivery system capable of supplying the entire Front Range protein and produce 'foodshed,'" Callicrate says.
His Peak to Plains business model provides a grower-friendly alternative to mega-distributors that serve only large industrial agriculture beef and produce operations to supply national chains and big-box retailers. Smaller food producers have been largely excluded.
The Ranch Foods Direct "Good Food . . . That's Good For You" model, on the other hand, enables Western Kansas and Colorado farm-to-table producers to move beyond farmers' markets or roadside stands to metropolitan restaurants and wholesale and retail shelves.
Ranch Foods Direct was founded in 2000 as a branded beef company that transports, processes, and sells direct-to-consumer meats, poultry, and other locally produced organic and naturally produced healthy food. The company currently offers direct-to-consumer products at its Colorado Springs retail location.
But Callicrate is thinking even bigger with his distribution business. Peak to Plains recently acquired a 22,500-square-foot food hub facility east of downtown Colorado Springs equipped with receiving docks, food washing and processing equipment, meat butchering areas, and plenty of refrigerated storage and for both produce and protein producers. "As far as I know, it's a first," says Callicrate.
By building a direct connection from the farm and ranch to the consumer, Callicrate says he'll also generate more and better jobs for rural communities and within the local/regional food system.
"We're building an alternative food system for smaller farmers who simply can't compete with big ag on volume and margin," Callicrate adds. So far Peak to Plains' business model has been embraced by growers throughout western Kansas and eastern and southern Colorado.
"Our goal is not to be the 'Masters of the Food Universe,' but a local/regional distribution supply chain that offers onsite butchering and transportation to market as well as consumer education on why local, sustainable, organic food is important, and where it comes from," he says.
The company's Peak to Plains Food Distribution division currently serves about 100 restaurant and institutional accounts from Denver to Pueblo. That number is projected to increase dramatically once all functions -- transportation, food processing, and marketing -- are up and running.
Wholesale distribution offices have already moved to the new facility -- and the entire operation will be relocated by January, Callicrate predicts. Also coming soon: a spot for Ranch Foods Direct at the Colorado Springs Public Market downtown.
Challenges: "A culture in which industrial ag giants donate millions of dollars to land grant universities and politicians to promote industrial agribusiness over family farm agriculture," says Callicrate. "They need to honor the founding mission of the land grant system: support for America's farmers and ranchers."
Opportunities: "To make good, safe, and affordable food available from places like the Arkansas Valley and Southern Colorado to city dwellers in Front Range communities and prove the local/regional food system can be replicated in other places," Callicrate says.
Needs: "We need a better-informed consumer and parents who will insist that their children's school districts provide healthy meals cooked with safe, locally grown food whenever possible," argues Callicrate. "We also need to train a new workforce in the skills of butchering. There is a shortage of good meat cutters. Many, now retired, were last employed by the large, industrial companies."
Founded: Peak to Plains formed in 2013 as a supply chain adjunct to Ranch Foods Direct (2000)
Employees: Ranch Foods Direct: 30; Peak to Plains: 10