This week’s spotlight is on Wyoming based Meadow Maid Foods, llc, who raise grass fed beef and all-natural vegetables – For the Heart, From the Heart.
Owner and Farmer Cindy Ridenour Answers Our Questions
How long have you lived in Wyoming?
We moved our cattle here in 1999. We were living in Rist Canyon west of Fort Collins, but moved to Wyoming in order to find affordable grasslands with sufficient water to raise grass fed beef from start to finish. We followed the cattle in 2001.
How long have you been farming?
The short answer is that we started in the late 90’s. We attended our first Farmers’ Market as a vendor in 2003.
We have never really been “farmers”. I have been raising vegetables on a small scale since I was a wee one, and our 1/2 acre of vegetables and hoop house remain more of a gardening venture than a farm.
We raise our cattle in an old fashion traditional ranching style rather than a farm/feedlot style. This means our entire herd is always on pasture, and cows naturally wean their calves. We sell some calves, but those that we keep remain a part of the herd. Our cattle harvest their own food rather than having it delivered by a farm commodity system. We do occasionally deliver grass hay to them on pasture when the winter snows demand.
What got you started?
Although Mike and I started our careers in science, we have always enjoyed the outdoors and raising plants and animals. We began with a dream of retiring early to a hobby ranch, but then we decided to live our dream while we were younger, leaving our professional jobs and paychecks behind – daunting at times and not for the faint-hearted. Although we both grew up as townies, I come from a long line of farmers in Illinois and Pennsylvania, and Mike’s grandparents also had a small farm raising vegetables and a few cattle in Ohio. So I guess we were born with the itch.
How often do you have a stall at the farmers’ markets here in town?
We participate in the Drake Road Market every Saturday June through September (minus one or two Saturdays for summer fun!). And we set up at the Be Local Winter Market about twice per month from November through March.
Where else can people purchase your grass fed beef?
Our ground beef is available at the Fort Collins Food Coop on E Mountain Ave in Fort Collins. Most of our beef cuts and our vegetables are only available directly from us at farmers’ markets here in Fort Collins and in Cheyenne. We market our custom beef directly to the consumer through our website, meadowmaidfoods.com, and at Farmers’ markets.
Which people and/or organizations have had an influence on the growth and success of your business?
Many people and organizations have had a huge impact on us – too many to list: first and foremost our faith, our grandparents and parents, Gregg Matney of Matney Cattle Company who mentored our cattle-raising efforts, Professor of Chemistry Gary Maciel who taught me so much more than just chemistry, Allan Nation who taught us through books and journals that we are “grass farmers” rather than “cattle ranchers” (so I guess we are farmers after all), Frank Stonaker whose open houses and research at the CSU research farm were always informative, Goshen County Master Gardeners who taught me how to raise vegetables on the high plains of Wyoming – no small feat, Hill Grimmett who pioneered the first Winter Market in our region and made year-round cash flow a reality for so many of us, Jo Robinson who seemingly single-handedly reintroduced the concepts of grass fed meats, dairy and eggs to the US, and the many wonderful writings of Joel Salatin, Carla Emery, Rodale Institute, Andre Voisin, Lynn Miller and the Small Farmers Journal, Eliot Coleman, Shane Smith, Sally Fallon Morell, the contributors to Countryside, the Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education (SARE) organization, and so many more.
What are your goals, your vision for the future?
Our goal is to produce the best, most nutritious and tastiest food possible while preserving and enhancing natural ecosystems – both above and below ground.
To achieve our goal, we implement practices that reduce external inputs and rely on the resources naturally endowed to us from the ranch. We feel that the National Organic Program missed the mark on truly sustainable food production, creating instead just another form of high-input agriculture. Rather, we reject broad-spectrum pesticides (even “organic”), and use composts, cover crops, and deep rooted plant species to naturally fix nitrogen and mine the subsoil for minerals necessary to the health and well-being of the soil biome. As soil fertility increases, plants naturally defend against diseases. Without pesticides, the beneficial insect predators and pollinators thrive! Additionally, we reject all hybrid vegetables, preferring instead open-pollinated and heirloom plants that are well-adapted to our conditions, and which support biodiversity and small seed farmers.
Another practice being implemented is to enhance our pasture management system in order to benefit the entire ecosystem. This entails building miles of wildlife-friendly fence to provide more intense grazing with our cattle followed by long rest periods without the grazers. This system sequesters higher amounts of carbon than conventional grazing which in turn increases fertility and soil mineralization, improves water infiltration and retention, and more closely mimics the way the prairies evolved. When completed (this is an on-going, multiyear endeavor), our ranch will provide more habitat for the native flora and fauna, a more consistent year-long supply of high quality forage, and minimize the need for external inputs – like hay and kelp meal – which are produced in a non-sustainable, fossil fuel intensive manner. We have made great strides to date, and expect more to come.
While pursuing our goals, it is our sincere hope to facilitate a re-emergence of local food networks, using truly natural growing methods to provide our community’s food – all the while leaving our tiny piece of the planet in a better condition than we found it.
What do you like best about the farmers’ markets?
I like to meet and talk food directly with the people who will be eating our products, also the opportunity to meet other folks working within the local food network, and the shopping!
What’s your favorite product available at Fort Collins farmers’ markets?
There’s this really great beef available from Meadow Maid Foods which might be my all-time favorite! Seriously, who could have just one favorite? Some of our favorites include chocolate milk from Morning Fresh Dairy, bear claws from Ingrained Bakery, winter spinach from Native Hill Farm, BBQ sauce from My Daddy’s BBQ, cubano orzo from Pasta Pazza, mixed dried mushrooms from Hazel Del, chipotle sauce from Horsetooth Hotsauce, and to delight the eyes – George’s dahlias at Drake Road Market in late summer.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Thank you Cecily, and thank you to all customers, market managers, restaurant chefs, grocers and other food producers who are participating in our local food network. Without all of you, we would not be able to do what we do!