Blades of Glory: Grassland Ecosystems at Big Horn Ranch
Think back to the days of coloring in diagrams of food chains and healthy ecosystems in science class. Your green crayon always got the most attention, and that’s because it all stems from grass.
“Everything nutrient dense that we eat comes from healthy soil, and to have healthy soil, you must have healthy grass,” says Michael Wright, owner of Big Horn Ranch. By creating a thriving grassland ecosystem at his Pittsfield farm, Wright can have pasture-grown livestock the way nature intended them to be. “Our souls were meant to be fueled with foods designed by the earth, not foodstuffs engineered by man,” he says.
After enlisting in the U.S. Army and attending Kansas State University, Wright returned to his family’s farm in the mid-90s to build his own home and start raising a few pigs and chickens, in addition to his father’s Highland Cattle herd. While developing his land and plans, Wright also worked as an agricultural grant writer and administrator, consulting farms on environmentally sustainable farming practices. By 2012, he was able to purchase his family’s cattle herd, let his father and stepmother retire, and focus on growing meat from Old World heritage breeds.
While we can pick up these products at the Pittsburgh Public Market on occasion, most of the pasture-grown beef, pork, poultry, and lamb are shared with families through Big Horn Ranch’s online store. “It is so cool to be working with livestock in the field and see new orders come through on my cell phone,” Wright says. “I see the customer’s name and address, and it puts a very strong connection between what I am doing at that moment and why.”
The farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is the first and largest meat-only CSA in the state. Ten-pound packages of assorted cuts — freshly frozen in coolers — are then hand-delivered to consumers’ doorsteps. Or, in some cases, they arrive at gyms and offices, where groups of friends and co-workers can share in the bounty. The CSA program lasts over a six-month term, but customers can sign on at any point to receive orders of beef, pork, a mix of beef and pork, or chicken. (The latter is available for the first time this month!) And, the program is offered twice a year, so you’re never without Big Horn Ranch’s goods.
“I grow meat that people can feel good about eating,” Wright explains. “It’s good for the animal, the farmer, the earth, and the people who consume it. If these four entities are not cared for, then ‘sustainability’ becomes a feel-good buzzword with no soul.” The state and federally licensed soil nutrient consultant offers services to others with similar intentions. He also designs grazing systems that help people profit from the reliable resource.
We find comfort in knowing that the grasses not only keep the products nutritious, but also remain unpolluted, as the animals reside upstream in our watershed.
And, so the chain continues: Wright grows healthy pastures, which create healthy meats, which then feed healthy families and yield more healthy pastures, and gives the green crayon more work to do.
Big Horn Ranch, 1670 Page Hollow Road, Pittsfield. 814.563.7348. bighornmeats.net.
“The most rewarding part for me is that my business improves the soil instead of depletes it, my products enrich health instead of plague it, and farming is fun for my family instead of drudgery.” — Michael Wright