The James Ranch located ten miles north of Durango, Colorado is a model success story of how multiple enterprises, operated by various family members, can share and maximize the resources of a single ranch.
“We all love living here so much,” stated Jenn Wheeling “that we are committed to each other and to the land and the community.” “That keeps us on track and together,” added Joe Wheeling.
Kay and Dave James started the ranch in 1961, raising five children who enjoyed growing up running the lush green pastures beneath the red rock cliffs rimming this beautiful Animas River valley ranch. As the siblings aged, they were encouraged to leave the area to study and explore the world, a tradition that continues with the third generation. However, as the five began families of their own, they found they wanted to return to the ranch to raise them.
As many in the family are quick to point out, Kay and Dave were wise in telling the ones who wanted to return that they could use the resources of the ranch (abundant water and cool season grasses) but that each would need to figure out an agriculturally-based business to be their own source of income.
And each of those businesses continues to flourish today: a spruce tree nursery started by Julie and John Ott; a regenerative, chemical-free garden with vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers operated by Jenn and Joe Wheeling along with a high-quality 100% grass fed and finished beef business; and the artisanal cheese and raw milk 100% grass-fed Jersey cow dairy managed by Dan and Becca James are featured products in the Market led by Julie Ott and the James Ranch Grill, a “table on the farm” restaurant operated by Cynthia and Robert Stewart.
Those main enterprises are a source of joy and health for the surrounding community and the thousands of tourists that roam the area each year. The Market also supports 52 other regenerative farmers in the region by offering their products on its shelves. This “regenerative community” approach offers a special experience for those who are able to be part of it. That approach is also flowing down to a new (third) generation of James family members as grandchildren of Kay and Dave are now operating their own enterprises.
A Supportive Infrastructure
The ranch began using components of Holistic Management in the 1980s and intentionally utilizes consensus for the multi-generation decisions.
“All the grandkids have grown up with Holistic Management, knowing about goals, and working together,” stated Jenn Wheeling.
To manage their layered structure, the James Ranch has established a hierarchy of infrastructure to best support their ongoing growth and development.
At the umbrella level, they are all participants in the family-owned and controlled partnership (James Ranch Agriprises), which is managed by the James Ranch Management Company. The James Ranch Market provides the infrastructure for the retail sales and marketing of the products produced by each enterprise that is individually owned. Each of those businesses, James Ranch Beef, James Ranch Artisan Cheese, The Gardens at James Ranch, James Ranch Trees, The James Ranch Homestead School, and The Grill at James Ranch, is operated separately and leases land and space from James Ranch Enterprises.
In this way, all are supportive of each other, but do not rely on each other for their income, which is a key to their success.
“Being clear about the structure will help ensure these businesses carry on to other generations,” said Joe Wheeling. “The whole works because we all work together and we are grateful for that,” he added.
The decision to build the market and grill building was a key turning point for their businesses but has set their enterprises on a different path. “We have learned to set a collective path, but keep growing individually as well,” stated Joe Wheeling.
“We also have family work days to tackle shared needs on the land,” Jenn Wheeling added. “That helps us keep on the same page and find time to laugh and work together.”
A Smooth Process
The James Ranch family have also adopted and adapted the Delegated Meeting process as the means to ensure strategic family engagement during meetings. Three generations with up to 20 persons who live both on and off the ranch meet three times a year to make key decisions as the whole.
The Delegated Meeting process was brought to the family by Joe Wheeling’s background in the corporate world. The process explores issues, develops solutions, and helps the group work together to implement those solutions.
The process has designated roles to manage the meeting process and keep it on track. A rotating moderator role gathers agenda topics from the whole group two weeks prior to the meeting, circulates information from the ones posing the topic(s) before the meeting, and then facilitates the flow of the meeting. This helps the meeting move from just information-sharing to an engaged two-and-a-half hour problem-solving time. A decision-driver is designated to listen to the discussion and identify consensus as it occurs. Additional roles support various aspects of progress during meetings.
To Learn More, Listen to Jenn and Joe Wheeling on the Down to Earth: Planet to Plate Podcast sponsored by Quivira Coalition and Radio Café.