- Additional Plants: native plants
- Animals: sheep
- Animal Production: grazing - multispecies
- Education and Training: display, farmer to farmer, mentoring
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, marketing management, market study, value added
- Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
- Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, public participation, employment opportunities, social networks, sustainability measures
Jeanne and Dan Carver decided in late 1999 to begin direct marketing of lamb and fiber, a decision stimulated by a combination of factors, including increased competition from a flood of imports, the inability of American lamb to compete in the general market on price and the closure of regional processing facilities, which had succumbed to consolidation.
Imperial Stock Ranch has raised Columbia sheep for more than 130 years and was instrumental in commercial crossbreeding of wool and meat breeds of sheep in the late 1800s. Given the market pressures and the ranch’s sheep-raising heritage, the owners decided to secure their own markets, set their own prices and assure that sheep are profitable and secure in their position on the landscape. The Carvers, who believe cattle and sheep grazing together can make a positive impact on the health and vitality of soils and vegetation, have won many awards for their sheep. With the help of the Western SARE grant to fund “extras” like product design and packaging, display and point-of-sale materials, photography and the like, they set out to place Imperial Stock Ranch lamb and fiber in restaurants and retail settings.
The Carvers put some product out in 2001 and began exploring retail relationships. In 2002 and 2003, things “simply exploded.” Today, they sell 100% of their lamb and wool production, and customers report that they love the quality of the product, including the flavor of the meat, the feel of the wool, the fact that the products are natural and the message of land and sense of place.
“We’ve been told we’re the perfect ‘slow food’ whose worldwide message is: Taste, Feel…Remember,” wrote Jeanne Carver in the project’s final report. “We have told the ‘sustainable’ message’ thousands of times at every retail location, with every product sold, with every ranch tour hosted, every convention talk we’ve delivered and in countless newspaper and magazine publications.”
The Carvers say demand for this type of product exceeds supply and that they and others can grow as long as they’re willing to do the work that it takes.
The project team proposed the following objectives:
• Develop a comprehensive direct marketing campaign for sheep products, including lamb, fiber and pelts to shorten the distance from farm to consumer
• Search and develop relationships with small custom processors, given the departure from the region of large, conventional processing centers
• Develop retail products
• Develop relationships with retail outlets for those products