We often hear from guests at the Zapata Ranch that the meals served in the Lodge are one of the highlights of their experience. Our dining program there goes beyond simply serving high-quality, fresh, locally-sourced, and memorable meals to our visitors. As Chase Kelly our Head of Food and Dining explains, “we aim for the food to be an extension of everything else we do at Ranchlands.” By feeding our ranch guests ethically and intentionally, food becomes a unique vehicle through which we manifest our mission and our values.
Most of our ranch guests are initially drawn to us by the more visible, romanticized aspects of ranching: the horseback riding, the dramatic openness of prairie landscapes, the trotting out before the sun rises, and the cattle roaming what remains of the great American grasslands. Once all the romantic dust settles, however, what remains is the core of our lifestyle: producing food. The job of any rancher is to convert grass into meat protein, all the while using cattle as a tool to manipulate the grass life cycle, manage whole watersheds, and build healthy soil. But making meat from the natural resources the land provides will always be at the heart of our work at Ranchlands and at all of the properties we manage.
Creating connections between people and the process through which their food is produced–be that as a rancher whose year-round job is to raise beef, or as a ranch guest who is allowed to take part in and bear witness to livestock production for a few days–is a poignant way to cultivate meaningful relationships between people and their natural environment. For our guests at the Zapata Ranch, eating communal meals in the Lodge is as much a part of their experience as riding through the Dunes, trailing and branding cattle, or hiking in the surrounding mountains after lunch. At the end of each day, guests have the unique privilege of consuming that same meat whose production they have been able to witness: bison meat harvested from the conservation herd of bison that roam freely on the northern half of the ranch, and grass-fed and -finished beef, born and raised on Ranchlands Chico Basin Ranch.
At the end of each day, guests have the unique privilege of consuming that same meat whose production they have been able to witness.
Beyond just the meat we produce on our ranches, all other proteins and produce served to our guests are sourced through the Valley Roots Food Hub, whose mission is to create a local, centralized food system, to make accessible foods that are not only local, but sourced from growers and producers who practice ethical and regenerative agricultural techniques. All of the food sourced through the food hub is produced throughout southern Colorado, and most of it comes from within the San Luis Valley where the Zapata is located. The Valley has a rich tradition of agricultural production, driven by the availability of water in the form of snowmelt from the surrounding mountains or ground water from one of the largest aquifers in North America, which sits under the northern portion of the Valley.
The systems through which we source the food we serve at the Zapata allow us to support local growers who are stewarding the vast stretches of land across the valley and protecting them as open spaces–producers who we know share our environmental philosophy. The Zapata emphasizes using only fresh, local, seasonally available ingredients to showcase the high-quality foods produced in the Valley and to demonstrate that when it comes to what you eat, you don’t have to compromise quality for ethics.
When it comes to what you eat, you don’t have to compromise quality for ethics.
As a ranch management company, we use planned grazing to make large-scale land conservation and for-profit meat production coexist. Just like our leather shop and mercantile, special events, and outreach programs, our hospitality and dining operation at the Zapata Ranch allows us to diversify our business, and ultimately, to make sure we can do what is in the best interest of the land, even in times of drought.
Hopefully, the dining room at the Lodge is a place to learn about how to eat intentionally, responsibly, and ethically. Among many things that folks take away from visiting the Zapata, the meals we serve might help demonstrate that eating meat can be a way to address the environmental challenges we face, that agricultural businesses and producers like ranchers can also be conservationists, and that incredible food can come from only what is locally available, produced by farmers and ranchers that use regenerative techniques to steward their land.