MARCH 2015

The New Header

"Innovation is creativity with a job to do." - John Emmering

Exploring how charred bones can play a role in regenerating healthy soils

THE BACKSTORY: Ranch Foods Direct owner Mike Callicrate first got the idea of turning bones into biochar while learning about regenerative agricultural practices from Australian consultant Darren Doherty. He then tracked down Scott Bagley, of Athens, Ohio, who has an exclusive license to sell the Exeter Biochar Retort, the most state-of-the-art technology available for turning wood into biochar. Would the same method work on bones? They tried it and liked the results.


WHY BONE-CHAR? The Exeter Biochar Retort is a large round oven that uses a high-heat process called pyrolysis to charcoal materials in an energy efficient, clean-burning way. As the wood or bone is charred, instead of the carbon burning off and releasing into the atmosphere, it becomes "fixed" in the charred material, which can then be finely ground and added to compost. Bone-char enhances soil by creating a more porous structure that helps retain water, improve soil aeration and encourage healthy micro-organisms. But bone-char is also a natural fertilizer, rich in calcium and phosphorous. "There's only a limited amount of phosphorous left in the world and it is all under the control of four big mining companies," Mike says. With reserves dwindling, demand is expected to outstrip supply as early as 2030. "Charcoal is a valuable ingredient in rebuilding healthy soils," Mike concludes. "Blended with composted manure and other nutrient-rich organic materials from our meat processing operation, it will make a great natural fertilizer."


"The highest reward for man's toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it." 

- John Ruskin

Customer Snapshot: Scott Meagher and Steve Scott

WHAT BRINGS YOU TO RANCH FOODS DIRECT TODAY? Steve: It's a tradition. We come down here and buy steaks, freeze them and fly them with us on our annual Arizona golf trip. They go with us in our golf bag! There's four of us guys, and we have another couple join us to celebrate a birthday party while we're there. Scott's the chef, and I'm the prep-chef. We do it because these steaks are the best! This golf trip is like our Christmas. Three years ago we made the mistake of waiting until we got to Arizona to buy our steaks. We're not doing that again!  


WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE CUTS? We like the filets and New York strips. 


DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL PLANS FOR EASTER? Scott: Lots of food and hopefully it's warm enough to play golf! Steve: I'm starting to get in the habit of coming down to Ranch Foods Direct. I'm thinking maybe I'll get an Easter ham here this year.

Agroforestry on the Plains

Naturalist-turned-environmental activist-turned-permaculture specialist Becky Elder is helping Callicrate Cattle Company re-design the landscape to fit a regenerative agricultural production model.


IMPRESSIONS OF THE RANCH: "Here's my first thought when I stepped out of my truck: it was like coming home. I could see from horizon to horizon. I saw a killdeer bird; I hadn't seen one of those in years! I love Kansas. It's one of the best-kept secrets in the nation. And the town of St. Francis is a gem." (Becky is a native Kansan who grew up learning to love the natural world while spending time on her family's 100-year-old Flint Hills ranch, complete with an old stone farmhouse. She fondly recalls a landscape of "bald hills and sycamore-lined valleys.")


CALLICRATE CATTLE CO DESIGN PROJECT: "I'm really taken with what Mike is doing. He's parting the waters to show us the way into the future. He's transforming his conventional farming operation into a virtual 'poly-face farm,' meaning one with many facets, all of which are in sync with nature, an approach that will be more sustainable and much more ethical. That is so exciting. It's something I believe every modern conventional farm will have to do in the next 25 years, and he's brave enough to step out and lead the way."


HOW IT WORKS: "Before you plant trees," Becky explains, "you must create the environment for them. It's a slow, thoughtful process. First you put in 'rain gardens' to capture rainfall runoff and build up soils so they'll retain water like a sponge." Part of the process involves planting "food forests," or "food guilds," communities of plants each with unique but complimentary roles, such as providing ground cover, attracting pollinators or fixing nitrogen. Another task is carefully selecting native trees and shrubs well-suited to the local environment, many of which will bear edibles such as chokecherries in addition to sheltering land and livestock.


FOOD PHILOSOPHY: "My goal is to never go into a corporate food store. I rely heavily on the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers CSA for produce and the seeds I use (in her landscape design business) are grown locally. I try to adapt myself to where I live. I don't buy oranges or avocados; I do eat a lot of meat and potatoes. And I try to focus on eating as seasonally as I can. I have my own chickens."


HOW HAS RANCH FOODS DIRECT CHANGED THE LOCAL FOOD SCENE: "I liked Mike from the moment I met him. He's a catalyst for positive change; he just has the fire for it. The downtown Colorado Springs Public Market project started at a Green Cities Coalition meeting at his store - and we need it to break the corporate stranglehold on our food system. He also helps sponsor lots of important events like the Pikes Peak Foodshed Forum 2 (held on Feb. 28.) To me, he's a hero."

In February, Mike Callicrate hired a neighbor to shred big round bales of grass hay and spread the mulch over new terraces at Callicrate Cattle Co.


Now in store: Bierocks aka runzas
Shawn Saunders' organic bierocks (referred to as runzas in the Russian language) are meat-filled pockets made with seasoned ground beef, cabbage and onion. Substitute these hand-held savory turnovers for a sandwich any time you want a quick healthy meal. Shawn is proud to announce that starting this month he is using all certified organic flour including locally milled whole wheat flour from Gosar Ranch of Southern Colorado. (You can buy the same flour in-store.) In addition, Shawn says he uses Ranch Foods Direct beef tallow in place of unhealthy hydrogenated vegetable oil in his quick breads and cinnamon rolls. "Tallow is really trending in the food world right now," he says. Stop by... There's always a great selection of bread and pastry items at Ranch Foods Direct, including new items made daily!    

New products arriving regularly...
now selling beef jerky!