What the couple that started the first ever Black-owned ranch in Arizona wants you to know about meat production over the holidays

Rachael and her husband James are both fitness trainers whose diets primarily consist of meat and protein. Their four children eat the same diet, and suring the pandemic in early 2020 they were met with empty shelves and limited options.

James told Yahoo Life. “We saw what happened with the grocery store and we kind of made the decision that opposed to trying to buy a house we should get some land.”

In the fall of 2020, James and Rachel purchased 10 acres of land outside of Douglas, Arizona, and officially launched Southwest Black Ranchers, the first black-owned protein ranch in the state. They raise cows, alpacas, goats, sheep, lamb, pigs, chicken, turkeys, and ducks and have completely reimagined how they source their food.

“We’re trying to create a system where local makes sense. To have this new black-owned ranch sourcing from the underserved community, developing a new system is just phenomenal," says Rachel.

Becoming ranchers wasn't plan for James and Rachel, who met in college and previously ran a gym in San Diego. In 2020 they moved their family to Arizona to launch a fitness company, but when the pandemic hit, gyms closed and they were forced to put their plans on hold. James is Black and Rachel is Filipino, and while they were excited at the possibilities of their new life on the land, they were also hit with the fact that there weren’t a lot of ranchers who looked like them.

In 2017, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that Black farmers made up just 1.4% of all farm producers. This dramatic drop reflects a century of intimidation and laws designed to thwart Black land ownership.

Going into the holiday season, Americans are facing surging food prices due to inflation. In October, the price of meat, poultry, fish and eggs rose 11.9%, compared to the same time last year. In November, Southwest Black Ranchers completed their first meat sales of lamb and goat. "Honestly we had never had goat before and wow, it's so good," says Rachel.

As families make their food budgets and seek out the best ways to feed their families, the Stewart’s urge them to look local.

“Start thinking, ‘Who is a farm or rancher I could support? How could I start feeding into these food systems that are coming?’ There’s urban farms and urban gardens,” says Rachel. “And that's what we really hope to do — help put more small farmers out there and support them and their products as well.”

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