‘Meat’ the Ciardullo Family: Good Ranchers for Life Working Towards a Good Life for Ranchers

Erica, Josh and son Henry, standing on the Ciardullo Ranch in Wellington. Photo by Elise Taylor.

Jonson Kunhn | North Forty News

Josh and Erica Ciardullo operate the Ciardullo Ranch based in Wellington, a 33-acre grass-fed, pasture-raised, sustainable, and regenerative Black Angus operation.

For the Ciardullo family, the dream of ranching started back in 2016; at the time, they were living in Denver, Erica, a schoolteacher, and Josh, an active firefighter, until a neck injury forced Josh to retire earlier than expected. That’s when they decided to turn misfortune into opportunity by leasing land in Wellington and escaping city life. But as they quickly have learned, dreams can sometimes turn into nightmares. 

“Between the droughts and the price of land going up,” Josh said. “It’s like one thing after another making it more difficult for people in agriculture.”

From soaring Beef prices to general inflation and debt, the picturesque lifestyle of living off the farm has declined for decades. Another issue adding to the crisis is the average age of farmers continues to increase, with no generation in line to take their place. According to the USDA, The average age of all U.S. farm producers in 2017 was 57.5 years, up 1.2 years from 2012, continuing a long-term aging trend in the U.S. producer population.

“If you look back historically, farming and ranching have never necessarily been a good source of income,” Josh said. “I think roughly 82 % of people in this industry rely on income from an off-farm job just to get by. They have to have city jobs to provide food for their country, doesn’t make sense to me.”

Erica and Josh Ciardullo. Photo by Elise Taylor.

But as Josh points out, not all appears to be lost. With things such as the Farm Bill, the largest piece of packaged legislation in the U.S. government that funds the nation’s food and the agricultural system as one example, there does appear to be a growing movement of people starting to value their food source more than ever before, which Josh attributes to the pandemic when there was more scarcity and people were unable to find everything they needed on grocery isles.

“There’s definitely a movement across the whole country. If you were to pull statistics, the big beef producers are starting to notice that more people are getting into regenerative agriculture and grass-fed beef. More people are searching for that connection to their food source,” Josh said. “I read something the other day that said this industry has grown 100% yearly for the last four years.”

And he’s right. As an article in The Guardian points out, from popular Ted Talks to documentaries on Netflix and everything in between, regenerative agriculture has definitely gained more popularity over the last several years, and it’s a popularity that doesn’t appear to be losing steam anytime soon. Regenerative agriculture is loosely defined as any form of farming, that is, the production of food or fiber, which simultaneously improves the environment. But it doesn’t just stop there; it also comes down to the care and treatment of livestock.

Even if animals are being raised to eventually one day make it to the dinner table, people all across the country are taking notice of the correlation between the quality of life of the animals they eat and their own.

Cattle on the Ciardullo Ranch. Photo by Elise Taylor.

“We get people all of the time telling us that they wish they could do what we do, and my wife Erica and I constantly have to tell them that this isn’t our property, we lease the land, we didn’t know what the hell we were doing, we had completely unrelated jobs and had to figure this out step by step, but we did it. The point is anyone can do this if they have the passion for it. My wife and I feel like that’s become our mission. Erica said we need to keep pushing and pushing that message that this is something more people can do, and not only can they, we need them to.”

So, how do you keep a movement alive inside a dying industry? Get involved. Even if you don’t have the means to start farming/ranching yourself, there are still plenty of ways to play a part. If you think you would like to support regenerative farmers, there’s one obvious way, buy their products when you see them and seek them out.

In addition to selling beef, the Ciardullos have started to expand their product line. They’ve started taking the fat of the animals and rendering it down for small batches of cooking and body tallows Erica makes from their kitchen. They also sell honey and eggs, but as Erica pointed out, the eggs sell faster than the chicks can lay them.

“We see this movement of people really wanting to connect with their food source, but I also think it’s even bigger than that,” Erica said. “I really believe that people want community now more than ever, and I think this was perpetuated because of COVID. I’ve never had so many people calling and wanting to come to pick up their eggs from our property or meet our little goat. They stay, and they talk and chat, and it’s been really amazing making these new connections; it’s really just a beautiful thing that’s happening.”

For more information on how to get involved or show your support, visit ciardulloranch.com and help to do your part by keeping this vital way of life alive for generations to come.

Josh Ciardullo. Photo by Elise Taylor.

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