Hometown resident resurrects small town grocery

In St. Francis, Kan., the hometown where Callicrate Beef is raised, Rodney Neitzel chose to take on the challenge of reopening the small town grocery store he remembered from his childhood. The friendly store is right along Highway 36. This year Rodney added a separate meat market and deli downtown near the St. Francis high school.

Out-migration and the decline of prosperity in rural communities make them vulnerable to becoming a “food desert,” a term applied to neighborhoods that lack grocery stores and a problem for the inner cities as well as isolated rural areas. It’s ironic that farmers who grow the nation’s food often end up with limited access to quality food stores.

St. Francis is located in far Northwest Kansas, only a few miles from the Colorado border. Since 1980, 12 of the northwest counties of Kansas have lost more than a quarter of their population, while the state population has increased by almost a fifth. Agriculture now makes up only 3 percent of the gross state product of Kansas, and that proportion is falling, leading to a decline in small town revenues, tax base, businesses and services.

(For more on the topic of rural out-migration, read a review of a new book, Hollowing Out the Middle, which appeared online in New West Magazine, CLICK HERE.)

Rodney is one native who chose to stay put. His store is full of memorabilia that celebrates the area’s history, including old photos of the town. Behind the cash register is an old phone salvaged from his grandmother’s 1919 farmhouse. He calls it a “conversation piece,” pun intended.

Q. How many grocery stores were in town when you were growing up?

A. There were two large ones, and three small neighborhood stores. The town population consisted of probably 800 more people at that time. But back then there were no big box stores around where people would drive out of town to buy groceries and other items. They bought mostly local.

Q. When did the Hilltop Market close?

A. It closed in the mid-1980s. It reopened as a little donut and coffee shop, then it became a second-hand store and antiques for a while. And then in November of 2004 it became vacant. From November to December, I thought about re-opening and I talked to the owner and he was all for reopening as a grocery store, because his grandfather ran it for a number of years in the 1960s and 70s. I remodeled the building and opened it in April of 2005. As a separate business, I opened the deli and meat market in June.

Q. What are the biggest challenges?

A. Naturally, competing with a Walmart that’s only 35 miles away — and the larger towns that are 90 miles away and fairly easy to drive to in an afternoon — competing on price; we can’t buy in large quantities as those stores do, because we don’t have enough space for the inventory, so the prices are slightly higher than what you would find at larger stores. But we think we make it up in service. We have free delivery within the city limits to anyone in need regardless of age. You don’t have to be retired. If a person has just left the hospital, they can call us up and get groceries delivered.

Q. I think that’s an important point: not everyone in a small town can drive 90 miles for food and supplies.

A. Exactly right, and as they age they realize that. The population of 65 and older is a higher percentage here than in most communities.

Q. I’m guessing not too many would be willing to take this on.

A. I would say that’s right. They don’t want to take the financial risk or devote the hours. We are open 7 to 7, seven days a week. I usually get here 45 minutes before we open and then stay 30 to 40 minutes after we close. That’s a 14-hour day.

Q. Are people appreciative?

A. Yes, they are. Just his past weekend when it was snowing and the weather was bad, several came in and said thanks for being open, especially on Sunday. If somebody needs something before church, we’re open.

Q. And at the deli?

A. More and more people do want the natural meats, the good quality choice cuts. Many refuse to buy any type of meat at Walmart. They just refuse to do it. We carry fresh local and regional products like Callicrate Beef, that haven’t traveled so many miles to get here.


Did you know? ... According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 15% of Americans are now “food insecure,” the highest level since the survey started in 1995. One of the goals of local food advocates in Colorado Springs is to look at ways of improving the affordability and access of fresh healthy foods so that they are available to everyone.

Farm Women

Farm women talk sustainability

Kim Wiley, owner with her husband Doug of Larga Vista Ranch near Boone and Beth Gentry, general manager of Bon Appetit at Colorado College, are two of six women who will appear on sustainable farming and ranching panel Dec. 2 at Colorado College.

The Wileys are committed to living and working on the Arkansas Valley farm that has been in Doug’s family since 1917. They produce raw milk and grassfed pork and beef, which is custom-processed by Ranch Foods Direct and sold at local farmers markets.

Despite being a national food service company with 400 locations in 29 states, Bon Appetit is thoroughly committed to sourcing food from local producers. Gentry notes that in a recent analysis she found that nearly half of the food served in the Colorado College cafeterias came from local sources. Bon Appetit serves Callicrate Beef to students, guests and visitors of the college and buys produce from the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers, which also supplies Ranch Foods Direct.

Presented by the Department of Southwest Studies and part of the Andrew Norman Guest Lecture Series, the panel is free and open to the public. It will be presented at 7:30 p.m. in Gaylord Hall on the main floor of the Worner Campus Center at 902 N. Cascade Ave. in Colorado Springs. CLICK HERE for more.

"It's about building sustainable food systems, creating a whole industry around local food systems that can improve communities. That can help end crime and create thousands of jobs.” — MacArthur grant recipient Will Allen of Milwaukee (CLICK HERE)

Christmas Classics

A favorite for special occasions like Christmas and New Year’s, the prime rib is a very tender cut of beef taken from the rib section.

A Prime Rib Roast is also often referred to as “Standing Rib Roast.” It is very tender, flavorful, and expensive. A slice of uncooked prime rib roast is really a “rib steak” which includes the “rib eye” portion. For a generous serving of prime rib/standing rib roast, figure on two people per rib. Look to Ranch Foods Direct for the ultimate quality, naturally raised, naturally tender beef! CLICK HERE for instuctions on how to prepare a prime rib and recipes for sides.  NOTE: Detailed instructional handouts are also available at the store.

Perfect for holiday breakfasts and brunches, Ranch Foods Direct has a wide selection of hand-crafted sausages and brats made from pork or chicken. For directions on how to make a cornbread stuffing, featuring Andouille sausage, one of the many fine sausages offered at Ranch Foods Direct, CLICK HERE.

Penuche is a classic candy recipe made with butter, milk and sugar. CLICK HERE for the recipe. Shop Ranch Foods Direct for chocolate favorites made by Mary Stephenson and Lois Jacobson, and enjoy homemade candies all season long or give them as gifts.


“I will honor Christmas in my heart,
and try to keep it all the year.”
— Charles Dickens

Great gifting ideas

1. Get a gift that’s sure to fit! Ranch Foods Direct gift cards and gift packs are delightful to give — and to receive. Mix and match, add your own bottle of wine or champagne.

2. Here’s a unique idea: why not give the gift of a CSA from Greenhorn Acres and let someone new experience fresh seasonal food direct from a local farm family? Marcy Nameth and her boys are offering gift baskets and CSA shares at the store to brighten up the winter season with visions of fresh spring and summer produce! It’s also a great way to say “Thanks” or “Happy New Year!” (CSA stands for community supported agriculture. If you are not familiar with the concept, CLICK HERE for more info.)

3. George’s Jams: Made locally with high quality ingredients and often featuring the extra zing of chilies and spices, these outstanding jams come in a variety of unusual one-of-a-kind flavors. Add a fresh loaf of bread or rolls, available at Ranch Foods Direct.

4. Infrared cooker: This handy countertop device takes a frozen steak to perfection in 20 minutes or less. It offers consistent results for cooking a wide variety of foods.

5. Ingredients galore: Make up your own gift baskets (rubs, sauces, pastas and more are available at the store) or make your own Christmas gifts, as Ranch Foods Direct retail manager Kindra Dale often does. It’s so nice to get a gift that shows someone’s investment of love, attention and thoughtful customization.

6. Most Ranch Foods Direct customer restaurants and personal chef services offer gift certificates. CLICK HERE to revisit the list.

Many wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
from all of your friends at Ranch Foods Direct!

(Just a reminder, the store will be closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.)

It’s that time again…

To get your free annual holiday jingle from Ranch Foods Direct
customer Dr. Pat Boone, please CLICK HERE.

Did you know? ... A “blue moon” (as in the saying, once in a blue moon) refers to the second time a full moon occurs in the same month. The next such blue moon will occur on December 31 (which also happens to be New Year’s Eve.) This rare event of two full moons in one month will not be repeated again until 2012.

“It is taken for granted among native peoples that creativity and the making of things are everyone’s task and are not primarily a matter of economics but of cosmology… The creative acts that weave a culture — acts of making food and gathering it, making clothes and repairing them, making fun and laughter — are integral to their spiritual outlook.”—Matthew Fox, “Wrestling with the Prophets”

... Your local source of natural beef, poultry, buffalo,
pork, lamb, eggs, wild seafood, deli meats
and cheeses, meals and more!

Member, Peak to Plains Alliance (

Store and Meat Plant
2901 N. El Paso, Colorado Springs 80907
Retail Hours: Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturday 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Sunday
(719) 473-2306 or 1-866-866-6328

Mike Callicrate, Owner

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