Tending to the family businesses—
The James Ranch by JOEL McNAIR
hen you get off the plane and enter the terminal at the tiny airport in Durango, Colorado, it’s hard to miss the electronic board streaming a rotation of ads for local attractions. James Ranch 100% Grass-Fed and Finished Beef is on the board. Fifteen years after Dave and Kay James sold their first ranch-labeled beef, James Ranch may not rank with the mountains or the climate or the arts scene in attracting retirees and vacationers to southwestern Colorado. Then again, it appears that for at least some people the family’s enterprises have become more than just a place to buy food. “We’ve had people tell us that our food is one of the reasons they moved here,” says son Dan, one of four James children who returned home to forge independent agricultural production and marketing businesses on James Ranch.
A Family Affair While not everyone cites James Ranch as a reason for relocating, it is indeed a growing enterprise — or rather a collection of growing
The James Ranch Market is the on-farm store, jointly owned by the James Family and operated by Julie and John Ott. 6
Land & Livestock
July / August 2012
enterprises. In fact it’s hard to find a better example of a multi-family farm successfully leveraging the mounting enthusiasm for organic, grassfed and local foods. Last year the James Ranch beef operation — run by Dave and Kay, but with the reins gradually turning over to daughter Jennifer and her husband, Joe Wheeling — ran short of meat despite processing 125 head. Dan and his wife, Becca, are having trouble keeping up with demand for their James Ranch artisan raw milk cheeses and herdshare raw fluid program from the 25-cow herd, so they’ll be adding cows this year. Also selling out was their Whey-Good Pork from 40 Red Wattle pigs. Meanwhile, sister Cynthia and her husband, Robert Stewart, last year launched Harvest Grill and Greens, a stationary food cart offering a variety of lunch and dinner items — the great majority made with foods produced on the ranch. In its first year the business was so successful that James Ranch will be adding a new driveway and an expanded parking area to better accommodate recreational vehicles. Dan says the Harvest enterprise also led to a substantial increase in business next door at the jointly owned James Ranch Market, which offers all of the ranch’s meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables, along with eggs produced by the free-range hen operation operated by sister Julie and her husband, John Ott. The Otts also grow Colorado Blue Spruces for their landscape tree business. Add in the restaurant and farmers market sales, the cut flowers, the farm tours, mail order sales, the vacation house rental and some of the family’s long-term ideas for retail sales and consumer education, and you get at least a partial idea of what’s going on here. Even grandkids are budding entrepreneurs as they experiment with projects such as selling the trout caught from the ranch’s stock ponds. But this is indeed just a partial description of James Ranch. As you might guess, it isn’t always easy maintaining relations when five family units are living and working in close proximity — particularly when the families contain more than their share of independent-minded individuals. The rest of the story lies with how the James family has thus far managed to create an atmosphere of business independence while also
Dan and Becca James use Red Wattle pigs for their WheyGood Pigs.