Chilcotin Meats | BCBusiness

Chilcotin Meats | BCBusiness
Chilcotin Meats is selling its wares directly to the consumer—a quaint and savvy business decision.

These ranchers believe food should be holistic, so they're putting their money—and making their money—where their mouth is

In the remote Chilcotin plateau, ranching is a way of life. Along Highway 20, the two-lane road that stretches across the Chilcotin Plateau between Williams Lake and Bella Coola, the million-dollar views of the Coastal Range and the rolling green rivers by scenery of ranch life: Lodgepole-pine fences, grazing  beef cattle, barns.

Over the past few years, some decidedly un-barn-like buildings have popped up along the stretch of the highway between Alexis Creek and Redstone: A settlement of cabins around two large modern pine buildings with moss, grass and wildflowers growing right out of their roofs, fronted by a big patio overlooking a man-made pond, which is an energy-efficient (and pretty) way to cool the building.

This is Chilcotin Harvest, the abattoir and butchery component of Pasture to Plate, B.C.’s first vertically-integrated organic grass-fed meat operation. The pond and patio are frontage for Kinikinik, the general store and restaurant that will soon start selling and serving meat from Rafter 25 Ranch, which has been owned and operated by Felix and Jasmin Schellenberg since 1979.
Along with their eponymous butcher shop on Commercial Drive in Vancouver and a future motel next to the restaurant (that’s what the cabins are for), Chilcotin Harvest is the real-world manifestation of the Schellenbergs’ deeply held belief that the food cycle should—and can—be holistic. Their business model is based at least partly on idealism, but also on tradition. This is, after all, how food was grown and eaten before the age of the mega-farms: directly from the farm to the people.

The dream is for the ranch and all its operations to be a self-contained cycle, with the family running every aspect of the business. They even own the refrigerated truck that makes bi-weekly deliveries to their Vancouver storefront. Currently, 22 people—locals, family members and a few overseas recruits like German master butcher and award-winning sausagemaker Volker Fahldieck—are employed by the operation.

Rafter 25 Ranch went organic and bio-dynamic at the turn of the millennium, and from there, expanding operations was a natural progression, says Felix Schellenberg. “When we changed the ranch from commodity production to Certified Organic, then we started to see large demand or organic meat, and we were definitely enjoying the production more,” he says.

“We could see that yes, there would be a day when we would want to sell direct, and that we would need a local abattoir. And we knew we wanted to build a motel so that tourists could come and stay so that we can show them what we’re doing, since we are quite proud of our practices.”

(On the day BCBusiness spoke with Schellenberg, he had been showing off his operation to the B.C. Minister of Agriculture, Pat Pimm, and his local MLA.)

Chilcotin Harvest opened in 2010; previously, ranchers had to truck their cattle over 300 km to a slaughterhouse on the other side of Williams Lake (the abattoir processes the ranch’s own animals, those of other ranches in the region, and also custom-prepares prepares game for hunters during the season).
Chilcotin Harvest’s facilities are state-of-the-art, and sustainability is a priority. The management is especially proud of its composting facility, which returns animal waste from the slaughterhouse back to the land, instead of incinerating it or, worse, adding it to a landfill.

In early 2012, it opened the butcher shop on Commercial Drive—a far cry from the early days when Felix and Jasmin themselves would drive down the Fraser Valley to sell their meat at the Trout Lake Farmers’ Market.

Despite the turn towards humanely raised and slaughtered grassfed meats, mega-farming is still the standard in these parts, which is what makes the Schellenbergs’ integrated ranching model such an unusual and risky undertaking. Because of their approach to retail, in which fresh poultry, beef, pork and lamb from Rafter 25 ranch is delivered every fortnight to the shop in Vancouver—the shop sells only meat from the ranch. It’s an extremely pure form of meat sourcing, and, yes, it does make the meat more expensive for the consumer.
Amanda Colville, who runs Pasture to Plate with her partner Gernot Arps, sees herself as an educator as well as a retailer, she’s also an educator. When people balk at the fact that her meat prices are higher than the supermarket’s, she finds ways to explain why this is the case, and why it should be so. “The bottom-line is that there’s always a cost,” she says. “When meat is cheap, someone is paying for it somehow.”

Though the shop has only been open for a little over a year, Colville hints that business is steadily growing. “The reason we have a steady customer base is that people are starting to see [organic, grassfed beef] not as a luxury item, but as a necessity. They take that seriously that there’s no murky backroom processing or [unclear sourcing], and that the whole operation is really transparent and traditional—it’s your farmer supplying you with food.”

Kinikinik is holding a soft opening on August 31st, with a Grand Opening planned for 2014.