At the edge of the Wallowa Valley, circled by the awe-inspiring Wallowa Mountains, Cory Carman raises cattle.
It could be just as simple as that, but it isn’t.
For four generations Cory’s family has been raising cattle in Wallowa County, each doing things a little bit differently than the generation before; Cory Carman is no exception to that rule.
Cory raises grassfed registered Herefords and Angus cattle alongside her uncle Kent Carman and husband Dave Flynn on Carman Ranch. She is raising her three children, Roan, Ione and Emmett on the very same ranch her great-grandfather Fritz Weinhard started raising cattle on in 1935.
She nurtures the very same land her grandparents, Ruth and Hoy Carman cared for, and she continues the family tradition her dad, Garth, lost his life for in a farming accident in 1993.
Cory’s uncle Kent and grandmother Ruth had been operating the ranch for many years while Cory was away at college. After graduating from Stanford and spending time on Capitol Hill working with the Ways and Means Committee, then managing several restaurants in LA, Cory decided to take a break from the cities and head back home to the ranch for the summer in 2003. The time had come for her to clear her mind, and figure out what she really wanted to do with the rest of her life.
Little did she realize then, but the ranch seemed to be calling her home. Cory soon realized it was a lot of ranch for just two people to manage, and she was asking a lot of her grandmother and uncle to save it for her until she was ready to come home and take over.
“Once I had a proper career, I knew I would come back to the ranch,” said Cory. It wasn’t until she saw just how much work was on the shoulders of her uncle and grandmother, that she realized it was now, or never. “If I wanted to be here in 20 years, I needed to start contributing that day, or let go. A cattle ranch isn’t something you just put on hold.”
From that moment forward, Cory has been immersed in the cattle ranching business, but Carman Ranch is not a typical cattle operation, and Cory is not a typical rancher. Many cattle operations raise the cattle, load them into semi-trucks, and then send them to auction.
The process continues with the beef being reloaded into trailers, where they are sent to be processed at slaughter houses. The end result is meat that has been subjected to stress, time and time again. This practice works for many ranchers, and most of us are accustomed to buying this type of beef from our local grocery store, but this cattle processing practice does not suit Cory, who is involved throughout the entire life cycle of her cattle.
Part and parcel
Cory is a hands-on rancher: from birth, to pasture, to summer graze land, she is there to watch the cattle thrive as they meander across the meadows of the ranch. Cory’s cows spend their entire life on the ranch foraging on famous Wallowa Valley grass and grass hay.
“We are committed to preserving the natural environment and providing our customers with healthy and delicious beef,” said Cory, who believes in low input farming practices, which includes eliminating chemical fertilizers. The deep-rooted perennial grasses that the Carman Ranch cattle graze on stores carbon in the soil, which also helps to remove it from the atmosphere.
Carman Ranch was the first Oregon ranch to earn grassfed beef certification from Food Alliance, the most comprehensive third-party certification program for sustainably produced food in North America. Food Alliances grassfed certification guarantees that animals eat only grass, never any grain or grain by-products, nor do they receive hormones or antibiotics of any kind. Food Alliance certification also ensures that Carman Ranch meets rigorous criteria for safe and fair working conditions, soil and water conservation, protection of wildlife habitat, and healthy and humane animal treatment.
At the end of fall, as the cattle mature to around 18 months, it is time to call in the local butcher, Kevin Silvieria, a highly regarded craftsman in his trade. Quickly, humanely, and free from the stress of the typical beef processing scenario, the animals are harvested on the same land they were born on. Silvieria, of Valley Meat Services, then drives the meat all of three miles to his shop in Wallowa where he cuts it to Cory’s specifications.
This could be the end of the story, but once again it is only the beginning.
“People want a connection to their food again,” said Cory.
Cory knew instinctively there was a market for grassfed beef in Oregon, before there was a market for grassfed beef in the state. Her years of restaurant experience in Los Angeles gave her insight to what customers, who were beginning to become more and more health-conscious, were looking for, so she set out to create the market that would welcome her own 100% grassfed beef.
Contributing to the Oregon economy
In 2009, with packages of Carman Ranch Grassfed Beef, fresh from Valley Meat Services, Cory traveled to Portland where she met with chefs from popular restaurants. One can only imagine the sense of pride, with a touch of butterflies, she must have felt as she approached her first chef. She told each of them the benefits of her grassfed beef, which is free of hormones and antibiotics. With one taste of the beef, all reservations are pushed aside.
Carman Ranch Grassfed Beef is now an ever-present staple on many restaurants throughout Portland, including Dick’s Kitchen.
“We wanted to have a 100% grass-fed beef hamburger on our menu, mainly because of the health benefits of eating beef raised this way.” said Barbara Stutz, of Dick’s Kitchen. “We wanted people to be able to enjoy the classics without any guilt, and actually be feeding their bodies with great nutrition. We did tastings from several different ranches and found the taste of Carman Ranch beef to be far superior. We also wanted to use a product that was environmentally conscious.
“It turns out that grass fed beef, raised the way they do at Carman Ranch, helps to reverse carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more effectively than any land use. For us it was a win-win. We really respect ranchers that understand the difference and go the extra mile to produce beef this way, the combination of grasses that make up the diet for the cattle create an amazingly flavorful product.”
“Our customers recognize that there is a flavor difference between grass fed beef and commercially produced beef and they enjoy the out and out yummy flavor. Many are thrilled to be able to eat a great burger that is also good for them and some are just happy that it is a great tasting juicy burger.”
In addition to her grassfed beef adorning the pages of menus throughout Portland, Carman Ranch, in conjunction with McClaran Ranch, also from Wallowa County, offers customers a chance to buy a portion of a cow to stock their freezers with through a cow sharing program. The Carman Ranch Buying Club also offers communities in the greater Portland area a chance to buy a smaller portion of the 100% grassfed beef at several locations throughout the city on specified days of the week.
“Growing up in Wallowa County, especially on a ranch, gave me a sense of responsibility and a sense of curiosity. It gave me a sense of independence,” said Cory.
Her love for the ranching lifestyle is just as strong as the generations that came before her, but her way of getting it done is just about as unique as she is.