When their first son was born, Mark and Tamara Taylor knew things had to change. They knew that they wanted to be home for their child, and wanted to live out in the country and work on a farm.
The result was Ravenwood Ranch and Farm Fresh Meats, which has grown into a thriving deli, butcher shop and meat store. In February it was recognized by the provincial government when the Taylors were one of the recipients of the Alberta Agriculture Best Practices Award for agricultural entrepreneurship and innovation. This award provided Ravenwood Ranch with a cash prize of $10,000 to grow their business.
In 2005, Mark, Tamara and their son William moved back to a farm owned by Tamara’s parents and purchased a herd of Berkshire pigs and a flock of meat goats. The animals were prolific and the Taylors soon had a supply of available meat products. They started selling their meat over the Internet, and then decided to open a retail store in May, 2008. Ravenwood Farm Fresh Meats is located on the main street of Caroline in a space owned by Tamara’s parents, Dayle and Alice Murray.
The Murrays, who raise natural beef, have partnered with the Taylors to run the operation. The original store was about 1,000 square feet. The current store has expanded to 3,000 square feet and features a deli, freezers and a restaurant area.
Both Mark and Tamara work full-time at the store with their two sons, Nathan and William.
“The whole catalyst was that we didn’t want to put our kids in daycare and be away from them,” says Tamara. “So be careful what you wish for because you could end up in a butcher shop with a baby on your hip.”
Upon opening the store, the Taylors realized there were opportunities for them to partner with other producers to sell their products. In order to meet a local foods status, all producers had to be within 100 miles from the store. All meat sold at Ravenwood Farm Fresh meats is antibiotic-and hormone-free, naturally raised, and humanely handled.
“So be careful what you wish for because you could end up in a butcher shop with a baby on your hip.”
The Taylors currently sell veal, beef, bison, venison, turkey, chicken, lamb and goat. In addition to their own pork and goat products, they also sell locally produced marinades and cheeses. “It’s definitely become a community effort,” says Tamara.
Around 20 farm families have supplied products to the store. The Taylors offer 10 cents per pound premium over what the markets are offering to give producers some extra incentive.
In January 2009, the Taylors were able to hire Dale Nash to be the store’s butcher. The staff also includes two part-time lunch cooks and a wedding and cupcake chef who works on contract. “Prior to January, we were paying the abattoir to make jerky, smokies and patties. We decided to be competitive. The only thing we don’t do is the inspected kill. We hang and age all our meat and Dale makes the sausages,” says Tamara.
The store has gained patronage from oil patch workers, campers, tourists, hunters and locals. “We decided to offer hot sandwiches so we could take our products as far down the value chain and get the most return from it,” said Tamara.
The store supplies area restaurants and has a steady customer base. “People have even driven up from Calgary because they’ve heard about us and what we do,” says Tamara.