Fort Steele, BC

Cutter Ranch

Tyler McNaughton and Sacha Bentall from Cutter Ranch come by farming honestly, given that they both grew up on family ranches. They are actively working to build a better food system from the ground up, one that produces food they feel good about eating, as well as sharing with their family and their community.

The Co-op’s Meat Department manager, Tyler Riddell, and I (Alyssa Nebel) had the chance to visit this farm, sample some of their products, and meet some of their animals!

Tyler and Sacha of Cutter Ranch put a lot of hard work and deep-rooted knowledge into giving their animals the best possible lives. Their commitment to not only transparency, but to kindness was obvious to Tyler Riddell and I when we visited Fort Steele in January.

Who are the farmers at Cutter Ranch?
Tyler and Sacha

Where are you located?
On our ranch in Fort Steele

How would you describe your farm operation?
We use a unique early model of agriculture and believe that handgrown reflects higher quality. We pay a lot of attention to the tiniest details. Animals are pasture-raised at low stocking densities, which is good for the animals, the land. Our animals are treated very humanely and are free from antibiotics, growth hormones and GMO-feed. We keep mechanization to a minimum and value healthy, nutritious and trustworthy food sources, but also know how important affordability is.

We know our feed grain farmers personally and can check up on their practices any time. And in turn, they follow closely our hogs’ development! We work with feed scientists to provide the animals with a highly tailored diet, taking advantage of the best of modern agricultural science.

What do you provide the local community with?
The Co-op sells our pork products, but we also raise lamb, and some beef as well. Our 3 and 5 year old daughters are starting small by taking care of our chickens and collecting the eggs to share with their classmates’ families.
Check out our website to read a bit more.*

*I did. And this is what I read:

“Our animals are raised year-round in lush pastures with ample space to graze and free access to clean water. We provide comfortable shelter from the Kootenay elements and work with a team of veterinarians and feed scientists to develop a nutritionally-balanced diet tailored specifically to our breeds and outdoor growing conditions. Our animals receive quality, customized care. They are raised in a stress-free environment, not only to ensure quality of meat but to respect and reflect the values of our consumers and ourselves.”

What’s your company’s mission?

Again, the answer to that is probably best articulated on our website.*

*So here it is, dear reader.

“Decisions at Cutter Ranch are made with the goal of honouring nature, and delivering a nourishing product free of manipulations.
It’s honest. It’s real. It’s where food comes from.
Our focus is quality. You know when you buy from Cutter Ranch the animal has been chosen for its superiority, raised with care and attention, and had space to roam. We go to great lengths to make sure we provide the best diet possible, whether it’s high-quality cereal grains or healthy pasture. You can trust that the food you feed your family is authentic and sustaining. Our concept is simple: From the farm to your fork, everything is done to the highest of standards with the utmost care. We are farmers at our core. It’s what we do. We do not do it simply, but are simply farming, using nature, ethics, and our education to ensure your expectations are surpassed.”

How long have you been in business?
We founded Cutter Ranch in 2008, but at that point we were located north of Kamloops. We moved to this location in 2012. But we’ve been farming our whole lives.
[Interview background]*
[Tyler grew up on a dairy and hay farm in Winnipeg and Sacha was raised on a beef ranch north of Kamloops, where her mother was a vegetarian – that must have been an interesting dynamic!]

What motivated you to start?
[Sacha]: I just knew I wanted to be farming. I want to be able to trust the food I eat, and the best way to do that is to grow it and raise it ourselves. I truly appreciate the health benefits of natural farming methods… We want what we eat, and therefore what we raise, to be as close to natural as possible.

[Tyler]: Well, I’m a 4th generation farmer with an agrarian education. I’ve always just felt called to it.

What are some of your greatest joys?
Whoa, that’s a loaded question. I guess we could identify the Kootenay lifestyle as one of our greatest joys… and we want this for our kids. We love that we are building the food system we want to see, from the ground up.

And honestly, watching the pigs play gives us so much joy, because we know they feel good and that makes us feel good, too.

Watching our kids growing up on a farm is another one. And, this might surprise some people, but we feel so lucky to be able to work with each other every day.

What’s your secret to working successfully with each other?
Partnership… Communication… Our goals run in congress.

What are some of your greatest challenges?
Well, mortgage obligations, of course… I mean, we’re farmers, yes, but we’re also regular people. At a certain point, it becomes quite difficult to grow sustainably while maintaining our high standards and integrity. Economies of scale, right? All the labour, and the feed, and the attention from the feed scientists… We have to work really hard not to sacrifice the integrity of the system. We want to transform the local food system without crumbling the foundation. One of the loyal livestock protectors

What is your vision for your operation?
To grow in lock-step with demand, for sure.

But, we’re very open to what the future brings. On the land we have here, we could grow 10-fold without overreaching the carrying capacity.

We’re really committed to being open-minded. For example, we hadn’t eaten chicken in years because of the sad state of the chicken industry, but there was customer demand… We had loyal customers coming up to us and telling us how they wished they could eat chicken they could trust as much as they trusted our pork and lamb.

We want to stay innovative. The ideas circling currently include implementing value-added products (more processing, more curing), installing a huge freezer, maybe a storefront, and to work more with food professionals, like local restaurants and the caterer who made today’s lovely meal.

Why is local food and/or local purchasing important to you?
Local purchasing encourages a healthy community: it reduces carbon footprints, keeps money in the community, and even boosts the value of that community, encouraging people to stick around. Buying local isn’t a new concept… we’re just going back to the roots, bringing back longstanding traditions.

We love the farmer’s market as a venue for our sales, and we barter and trade as much as possible with other local producers.

[Sacha]: It drives me nuts to see water (in the form of celery) being shipped all over the world. We have the best local celery source (from Wasa) and both parties are happy to trade what we have.

[Tyler]: Even a ranch externality like manure is a valuable resource to other food producers. Everyone has their strengths and their resources and we can build a stronger community together by sharing these.

If you could deliver a message directly to Co-op members/customers, what would it be?

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