Field notes from the Ranch, our producers & soil superhero stories.
This week I was interviewed by Melanie Saltzman for her PBS series, The Future of Food. Having spent countless hours with people involved in all aspects of the food world, Melanie is well-versed in the language of food systems, even regenerative agriculture. She is intrigued by the degree to which systems we once assumed were efficient are actually fragile, and that local systems, often considered inefficient, have proven to be resilient. She cited experts who believe the pandemic has moved the local and regional food movement ahead by a deca...
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INTRODUCING BLUE NORTH
We believe in mutual respect and interdependence with animals, and that all cre...
SUPPLY + SURVIVAL
It's hard to miss the headlines about meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses closing througho...
HOT OFF THE PRESS
With the world around us changing daily, there's a lot to talk about! We're trying to co...
THE RANCH COMMUNITY
It’s spring on the ranch. Baby calves are born every day, which means they each ge...
BABY PIGS & BUTTERCUPS
Before it snowed several inches yesterday, the sun shone long and bright enough to brin...
Like the rest of the world, here at Carman Ranch we're adapting to daily changes, do...
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TThis week I was interviewed by Melanie Saltzman for her PBS series, The Future of Food. Having spent countless hours with people involved in all aspects of the food world, Melanie is well-versed in the language of food systems, even regenerative agriculture. She is intrigued by the degree to which systems we once assumed were efficient are actually fragile, and that local systems, often considered inefficient, have proven to be resilient. She cited experts who believe the pandemic has moved the local and regional food movement ahead by a decade. She’s talked to farmers, reliant on commodity buyers, who are struggling, and to farmers who sell directly to their consumers, whose businesses are booming.
Melanie was clear that she believes there are two pressing issues when it comes to the regional food movement: affordability and durability. She referenced a colleague who scoffed at the idea that, when this crisis is over, people will continue to pay a premium for regionally-produced food; he considers it an elitist movement. Even for eaters who are just beginning to realize the value and quality that come from supporting regional suppliers, he questions how long they can continue to support these producers in a global recession.
For me, one of the brightest lights to come out of this disaster is a widespread recognition that, as long as we’re measuring the value of food in strictly financial terms, we’re disregarding some of its most critical attributes. By prioritizing affordability and convenience, we’ve sacrificed nutrition, flavor, soil health and rural communities. Ballooning healthcare costs and levels of chronic disease are just two of the costs to our country of “affordable" food.
After my conversation with Melanie, I caught up with Spencer Bebee, a well-known conservationist and founder of Ecotrust. He cautioned that what we’re dealing with in this pandemic is just a warm-up for what global warming will bring in the years ahead. With that perspective in mind, we can begin to think about our priorities differently. We need clean, nutrient-dense food to fight off new viruses, to nourish and support our families and communities, and to maintain rural places. We need efficient supply chains, but they are irrelevant if they aren’t also resilient.
Envisioning a food future that starts from the status quo stifles our imaginations. If my great-grandmother had been asked to imagine a future in which 97% of the country’s cattle were fed a diet of corn and soy, she would have asked how and why it would ever make sense to grow and transport crops dedicated to feeding cattle when they could walk out and eat grass. Yet here we are, 80 years and billions of dollars into making feedlots efficient.
At this point in time, we have a unique collective insight into the chinks in the armor of the industrial system. This awareness invites us to step back and reexamine what’s possible, and what we want to imagine for our grandchildren. Could investing in regenerative agriculture be as “affordable” as today’s cheap food? What if it came close and we were able to sequester carbon and improve nutrition too? Where could we go, knowing what we know today, if we sat down together with a clean slate? What would we create? What would we value?
Wallowa County was among the first rural counties to open this past week, and we’ve been watching a steady stream the out-of-state license plates drive into our valley. It reminds me of all my college friends who called me crazy for moving back to the ranch. Other Stanford graduates openly challenged my decision to make so little money. I’ve always known that a great salary could never replace the joy I get from these snow-capped mountains and being with animals every day. As others join us here, I’m excited for them to experience this incredible place, and be reminded that so much of what matters will never be captured in financial terms.
Have a great weekend,
Introducing Blue North Cod
WWe believe in mutual respect and interdependence with animals, and that all creatures deserve to live in a way that honors their needs and preferences. Once you start eating with this ethos in mind, it’s impossible to accept anything less. Fortunately, we have friends who share the same values. From Mary Hawkins' delicious pastured chickens, to Paicines pristine organic grassfed lamb, we're proud to offer a variety of delicious sources of protein. And now, for the first time, we’re offering fish! Formerly only available in large packs, wild-caught Alaska cod from our friends at Blue North, is now available exclusively to Carman Ranch in convenient 6 oz portion sizes in our new cod box.
Blue North has led sustainable, responsible fishing practices since it began operations in 1983. They first introduced their pioneering Humane Harvest cod to chefs, who shared their respect for the resource and commitment to quality and flavor. We're happy to make Blue North Humane Harvest cod available to our customers too, because we all want to feel good about the food we eat.
Take a look at Blue North's Alaska cod, available as an add-on, and stay tuned for more of these community producer partnerships in the coming weeks.
Have a great weekend,
The Carman Ranch Team
Supply & Survival
It’s hard to miss the headlines about meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses closing throughout the country. At least 48 plants have reported cases of COVID-19, and 2200 workers are infected. Beef production alone is down 20% since this time last year, and commodity prices continue to increase. At the same time, cattle prices are the lowest they’ve been in a decade.
If you’re interested in what’s happening in large-scale meatpacking plants, USA Today, New York Times and Civil Eats have great coverage. But rather than speculate about whether we'll see a meat shortage on retail shelves, or if plants will choose to stay open and continue to put workers at risk, I want to highlight what we do know: our own plant.
To build a supply chain of like-minded folks who share our values and vision for the future has always been key to Carman Ranch's mission. That supply chain begins with our producer group and ends with our customers. In between, there are a handful of key players, one of which is Kalapooia Grassfed Processing, a family-owned processing plant in Brownsville, Oregon.
Kalapooia has nearly perfect marks on its annual food safety audits, and on a comprehensive animal welfare audit. Built by Reed Anderson to process his own Anderson Ranch lambs, Reed also processes cattle for a few companies, including Carman Ranch. Reed’s son Travis oversees day-to-day operations, and I’ve worked with Pete, Kalapooia's plant manager, for over a decade. The Andersons think of their processing plant as a family business, an ethos that extends to include their staff and customers. Anderson Ranch employs fewer than 50 people, and they took the safety of their workers seriously early on in the COVID outbreak, in part because Pete and Travis work side-by side on the line with their employees. They already required protective clothing, and their small size allowed them to create distancing more easily and effectively than larger plants.
We’ve harvested our animals at Kalapooia 50 weeks a year for the last three years. At a time when many meat companies have had to shut down, or are nervous about supply, we continue to be confident and proud of our partnership with the Andersons.
As we move through this crisis, we’re learning more about the vulnerabilities in our incumbent systems. Affordability in food is important, but saving a few dimes can come at a cost none of us should have to shoulder, including our own health and safety. Across the country, those costs are now coming to light.
I won’t pretend our beef is cheap. But when you factor in the positive effects on the climate, community and supply chain that your purchase supports, it becomes an important investment. And, when you ascribe to our philosophy of smaller portion sizes with tons of flavor and nutrition, the dividends on that investment become immeasurable. The final benefit? We can give our customers the same peace of mind we find in knowing that we'll keep working with partners like Reed Anderson and Kalapooia to provide nourishing food, regardless of how the headlines around large-scale meatpacking plants play out.
As always, thanks for your support.
& The Carman Ranch Team
Hot off the Press
With the world around us changing daily, there's a lot to talk about! We're trying to comprehend, as individuals, families and industries, how we'll be impacted and where we’ll have to adapt.
Carman Ranch has been included in several of these conversations over the last few weeks. Local writer Lynne Curry covered the impacts of the pandemic on businesses in Civil Eats. Hannah Wallace wrote two pieces: one in Reasons To Be Cheerful, about our partnership with Burgerville for their No. 6 Burger, and another for Civil Eats that highlighted chefs taking to Instagram. And Cory was a part of the conversation about Oregon farmers and the pandemic on Think Out Loud last Thursday.
For Portlanders in search of a source of clean, healthy meats, delivered to your door, order here. Customers interested in ordering a cow or pig share for their freezers will be happy to know we have a few of those available too. Act now; they're going fast!
Finally, for your friends outside of Portland and our delivery zone who want to find their own source for Carman Ranch products, tell them to check out Zingerman’s and Grass Roots.
Wishing you a great Wednesday,
Cory + The Carman Ranch Team
The Ranch Community
It’s spring on the ranch. Baby calves are born every day, which means they each get vaccinations, ear tags and vitamin shots. This week, those tasks that are ordinary to us became an event as disparate people surrounded Sam and Salvador while they worked: Forest (recently featured in the NY Times) was on horseback, while his wife, Margo, and my younger son, Emmett, looked on. Talia stopped by to snap some photos, and Wyatt, a young man who wants to get into ranching, came to learn. Jesse, our neighbor, walked by with her two-year-old Dirk as my Uncle Kent drove through the scene.
Margo and Forest are brilliant musicians who came back to Wallowa County after cancelling their long anticipated tours. Emmett’s basketball season was cut short, and he’s missing the 6th grade field trip he worked to raise money for all year. Wyatt’s college classes were cancelled. Jesse had to stop going to work when Dirk’s daycare closed.
Sam and Salvador usually do their jobs without help (or an audience), but this week, it wasn’t about getting the job done. It was about being together in the same place, sharing the disappointment each of us feels at not being able to realize our plans. Watching them, I noticed that the group, safely distanced from one another, ranged in age from 2 to 70. On first glance, you’d guess that they had little in common--not interests or skills, political views or life experience--yet were bound by a shared appreciation of the snow-capped mountains, the brown-eyed baby calves, and the joy of being outside on the land. Rather than being inside sulking, they were discovering what could arise in the absence where their expectations once lived.
It’s ironic that our inability to gather physically has opened up the emotional space to expand our community. Against a backdrop of fear and loss, it’s easier to see where people show up, and that illuminates what we have in common. Sharing a single circumstance with someone, inspires you to care for them and make space for their needs.
This pandemic came at an incredibly divisive time, but I am convinced that small bonds will be the lights that show us a path forward. Believing that, I try to recognize the values and ideas I share with others, and leave the ones I don’t behind. If we can gather around what we share, we can hold on to the unexpected connections long after the fear subsides. Because, to borrow a line from Margo’s song, “the day I quit trying, that’s the day my heart stops growing.”
Have a wonderful weekend,
Cory + The Carman Ranch Team
Baby Pigs & Buttercups
BBefore it snowed several inches yesterday, the sun shone long and bright enough to bring the hills alive with buttercups. The perfect little flowers, harbingers of the green grass to come, remind me of growing up on the ranch. As a child, full of anticipation for the appearance of green, pretty, live things, I'd dig up a little plant each year, put in a pot, and bring it into the house. And I was soon reminded, as they wilted and faded, that buttercups aren't meant to live indoors.
Not unlike buttercups, I think we humans are not meant to spend too much time indoors. And yet here we are, protecting ourselves, our loved ones, our community. Staying inside means many of you are cooking and placing orders online for meat; we are immensely grateful for that.
We see our order numbers increasing each week and are working hard to keep up. Continued strong sales are critical for us right now, as we adjust to the loss of the restaurant business. We want to remain vibrant and keep growing, and in order to do so, we need to make a few changes. Beginning next week, we’ll do the following:
• Add additional delivery dates for different areas of Portland
• Add our first drop site (with more to follow) where you can pick up your order, curbside-style
• Consolidate our offerings into several boxes with a streamlined list of add-ons
• Offer a handful of products from local producers who share our values and commitment to quality
With these changes, we'll be able to reach more customers and simplify our packing. You may have a bit less flexibility when it comes to ordering, but please remember that less flexibility doesn’t mean less deliciousness! I’ve been watching every order as it comes in; I see what you are ordering and am confident that the boxes we've created will work for most, if not all, of you. And if I’m wrong, please let me know.
Cory & The Carman Ranch Team
COVID-19: A Special Update from Carman Ranch
Like the rest of the world, here at Carman Ranch we're adapting to daily changes, doing our part to protect each other and trying to contribute to making life simpler. With the need to stay home and stay healthy, we understand that access to good food is important, and we're ramping up our efforts in our home delivery program.
To improve access, we are:
1. Increasing the availability of all of our products, and adding options for purchasing staples in volume;
2. Providing FREE DELIVERY on orders over $150
3. Extending the deadline to place an order from Sunday at midnight to Monday at midnight, for delivery on Wednesday;
4. Beginning soon, we will add a will call/pickup option in SE Portland on Fridays and Saturdays in for those outside of our delivery area.
Many of our team members work remotely already, and will continue to do so. We are working closely with our producer group to respond to the ever-changing demand from retail and food service customers.
Our entire inventory is stored in a freezer warehouse, and orders are picked by Wholesale Manager Jimmy and delivered by longtime team member Tom, both of whom are taking all of the precautions necessary to get our customers their orders safely.
During this uncertain time, we’re grateful to be working outside of the commodity market. And we're proud, as always, to be forging a connection between ourselves (the people working the land) and you. We will continue to do our best to get delicious, clean, nutritious food to you in timely and safe manner.
Thank you for being part of our community and please reach out with questions or concerns.
Cory & The Carman Ranch Team
Home Delivery & Beyond
FFrom the relative isolation of Wallowa County, I’ve been pondering how life became so complicated so quickly. We’ve lost the grounding effect of schedules and habits, and are evaluating and adjusting our general principles for navigating pretty much everything. We're being forced to consider all that we take for granted through a different lens. At the same time, life has become clearer and simpler. Everything that has always mattered -- but that we sometimes overlooked -- is all that matters now. More than ever, there are no excuses for not taking care of ourselves and one another. That means we get to hunker down with our actual and chosen families, and we get to eat . . . at home!
A significant portion of the beef from Carman Ranch used to go to restaurants. Now, order by order, it's beginning to go directly to homes. One of our most important priorities during this time is to maintain our commitments to our producers and support the work they do. To date, we haven’t had to cut our numbers or turn back on any of our commitments, and we plan to keep those promises by finding different avenues for selling what we produce. Our other priority is to serve our customers, and meet them where their needs change. Since none of us can enjoy it at restaurants right now, we’re determined to get our meat directly to you.
We will continue to offer home delivery in Portland and are looking at ways to expand into other neighborhoods and cities by creating drop sites where we can leave several orders at once. We could use some help from you for this part. Our hope is that you or someone you know will consider hosting a drop site. Do you, or your neighbor, or your friend in Bend, Seattle, Corvallis or Ashland have a porch with enough space for people to come and go without coming into close contact? Please let us know if you can help.
A few more things to mention: Because our team loves to cook, we’ll be sharing our favorite recipes and cooking techniques. (Ellen has this Black Pepper Beef and Cabbage Stir Fry from the New York Times on repeat, combining Lady Steaks or Steak Strips with the cabbage from her 47th Avenue Farm CSA.) And because we’re based in Wallowa County and find that it's especially nice to see baby calves and pigs in this moment, we'll keep you posted with pictures and stories about what's going on at the ranch. Stay tuned for all of that, and please reach out. We’re finding solace in the knowledge that we can be helpful during this time and are focusing all of our efforts on that! So let us know what you need.
Cory & The Carman Ranch Team
Introducing Paicines Lamb
CCattle can play a critical role in promoting ecosystem health. So can pigs (they till up annual grasses and weeds), chickens (they help other animals by reducing pest cycles and fertilizing) and sheep. Sheep are vital in a grazing ecosystem, in part because they love forbs, the leafy plants and flowers found in pasture systems creating a more balanced impact on the environment.
And let’s be honest. Good lamb is delicious. But finding well-raised, flavorful lamb isn’t always easy. Enter Paicines Ranch, a working ranch and learning laboratory in Central California with a mission to support healthy soil. Paicines employs innovative practices like training the grape vines in their vineyards to grow tall enough that the sheep can graze under the rows. They also rotate the sheep through carefully-planned pastures of diversely-planted cover crops and nutritious grasses. The result is clean, pure lamb flavor, pleasantly deep and satisfying.
We're happy to have the opportunity to bring you uniquely nutritious products, support practices that improve the health of our planet and its people, and introduce balance and variety to your dinner table!