“Last night, our ewe had triplets in the middle of a blizzard.” Since our short film A New (Re)Generation, it’s been a wild ride for rancher Carrie Richards, owner of Richards Grassfed Beef in Yuba County, CA. In addition to some untimely snow this past spring, the ranch has experienced a massive amount of rain in the last year. “It’s nice to have moisture, but it’s happened all at once.” Besides weather, she’s been busy maneuvering ranch personnel changes, covid-related obstacles, different strategies in grazing, new animals, and grant applications. Above all, Carrie has been striving to mindfully and patiently grow the beef business to the perfect level…but focusing more on the “better” rather than the “bigger.”
REGENERATIVELY AND HOLISTICALLY MANAGED SOIL HOLDING 3X MORE CARBON
Among the number of animal-related changes on the ranch since the last time we caught up with Carrie is a brand new pig operation. Carrie started with three pigs two years ago, and now she’s almost at 30. “We’re letting them tear up the ground, then letting it rest. They live a happy pig life in the trees and bushes, snarfing around.” Besides the pigs, the arguably most exciting update is the clear progress that her soil is experiencing after being holistically and regeneratively managed. The year A New Regeneration came out, she tested the ranch’s soil, and found that they had already increased the carbon in their soil three times more than the average levels in the surrounding ecoregion, the Sacramento Basin. Of course, Carrie takes these results with a grain of salt because they didn’t measure every inch of the 6,500 acre property. Nonetheless, the results were wildly inspiring. “It’s very obvious to me that what we’re doing in those pastures is incredible for the soil and the biodiversity.”
DIALING BACK AND REBUILDING
Keeping on the theme of mindful, patient growth – Carrie wisely dialed back her beef business and began to rebuild it in a way that works for her and her family “instead of trying to make the traditional way work.” In addition to cutting down on ranch personnel (leaving only Carrie, her husband, and an apprentice) – Carrie has transitioned into taking on administrative tasks as her main focus. Instead of wrangling cattle, she’s been wrangling trade-shows, budgets, and grants – while her husband and apprentice are outside doing the majority of the hands-on tasks. While her team has shrunk, her business has grown – so things are busy to say the least. Richards Grassfed now serves 14 different school districts as well as various hospitals in the region. “Growing these programs has been a ton of work,” Carrie commented. “I’m kind of pulled in two directions, which is fine for now, but I want to do more ranch stuff. So I’m trying to figure out what that balance looks like. Because it’s more fulfilling for me to be outside than being on Zoom calls all day.”
PANDEMIC CUSTOMER FRENZY
Since the filming of Kiss the Ground’s A New (Re)Generation, COVID struck. Carrie commented that everything at Richards Grassfed went online when the pandemic began…and then immediately sold out. “It was a mess trying to get our slots and stuff processed. It was an absolute nightmare.” Yet – her business was booming. Folks weren’t just furiously buying beef online, but purchasing whole cows due to their fear of getting stuck without meat. “It was an excellent sweet spot of business for six months…then nose dived the moment that the world reopened again. Amazon caught up; grocery stores got going again. It just fell off.” Richards Grassfed sales always remained a little higher than pre-pandemic levels, but never returned to the wild levels they saw mid-pandemic. Though it was a tumultuous time, there were a few great things that came out of the pandemic for Carrie and her business, including having the opportunity to spend an entire year on the ranch to better familiarize herself with the land, and an excellent whole-animal program.
“IT’S LIKE 47 JOBS RUNNING A PROPERTY”
For Carrie Richards, family runs deep. She has three siblings – all involved with the ranch in some way. Her older brother Tom and sister Noelle own the meat company along with Carrie, and her younger brother Smith helps around the ranch. In A New Regeneration, we found how the relationship between her and her dad was quite complex, mostly due to their disagreements during transitioning the ranch from traditional management into regenerative management, paired with Carrie’s experimental, non-traditional ranching strategy. At the time, she didn’t fully realize how many jobs are wrapped up into running the ranch. After a few years of being the head of the ship, she commented on her own influx in respect for her father and what he had to juggle. “It’s not just the ranch…you are a plumber, you’re a stock broker, you’re a weatherperson, you have to be a house manager. It’s like 47 jobs running a property.”
Carrie has vivid memories of her aunt and grandmother cooking all day with fresh produce from the family garden and meat from the ranch, especially on Thanksgiving which was an all-day cooking venture. For a portion of her young adult life, Carrie strayed from the ranch to explore other horizons, and fell into poor eating habits (mostly low quality bread and simple carbs) which lead to some major health issues. Every time she would come home to the ranch for a meal, her aunt would be cooking a fresh meal from her father’s garden. After eating, she would immediately feel a difference in her body and say to herself, “oh right, THIS is food.” She began to read up on pasture-raised meats and eating organically, and realized that the best source of food was right in her family’s backyard – literally. Ten years later, she returned to the ranch, started to buy organic groceries, grow a garden, and enjoy more meat from her family’s ranch. Ever since this transformation in lifestyle, Carrie says she always wants to be somewhere where she can have a garden.
ART & RANCHING
As a little girl, Carrie didn’t dream of being a rancher. Instead, she dreamt of being an artist. While at the University of Oregon she ended up becoming an art major, and worked as a photographer for 12 years after graduating before moving back to the ranch. Over the years she’s also dabbled in architecture, painting, and web design. Nowadays, she finds ways to integrate art into her everyday work on the ranch, mostly through her artistic eye allowing her to appreciate the “messiness” and natural state of things. She comically exclaimed how she couldn’t relate to picture-perfect ranches and farms. “I know that maintaining a perfect pathway without weeds is nearly impossible, even though it looks adorable on Instagram. I appreciate the gritty moments a little more than the rest of my family. That’s how I see my artisticness coming through in my everyday work.”
“WE MUST FIND A WAY TO MAKE FARMING AND RANCHING WITHIN REACH”
Carrie, who has built a family of her own, is trying to master the 8-hour work day so that she can have a fulfilling life with her two kids and husband – which is not an easy mission. She commented that this could be a reason why farming and ranching doesn’t seem too appealing for folks looking to build a family, or to simply pursue hobbies outside of work. “Farmers and ranchers tend to work themselves to death. We must find a way to make farming and ranching within reach for people, because advertising it as a 24/7 job isn’t an excellent marketing plan.”
HOW IT ALL WORKS
What Carrie wishes to see change in consumers so that they don’t mindlessly rely on the convenient, cheap, lower-quality meat options? To better understand how it all works. “In cities, where people don’t see farms and ranches, they may not see any of these processes. Their meat just arrived in the store. You won’t get that information unless you’re looking for it.” Carrie doesn’t know how to change this disconnect on a macro scale, but she’s working on it in her community. She has signed up for local school tours to show students how ranch operations work. She offered the idea of more farms and ranches near big cities opening up their facilities to give tours. “More people need to know how this all works.”
THE SWEET SPOT
People often ask Carrie how many stores she can potentially sell in and how big her volume can get. While she has big plans for Richards Grassfed, she does not want the company to grow beyond a certain point. Carrie is less interested in the bigger, and more interested in the better. She wants to continue to work with farmers and ranchers she knows personally and to grow her business the way she wants to – not just to hit the big numbers. “We have this idea about how big we want to get. There’s no real desire to get bigger than that because we know how much work it is to get to that next level. I do believe that there is a sweet spot.” She then quoted the words of rancher Will Harris at White Oak Pastures – “My system is not scalable. Still, it’s repeatable”.
Written by: Carina Immer