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In 1998 Kansas cattle rancher Mike Callicrate, a native of Evergreen, found out how the meat business really works.

After years of criticizing the meat packing industry’s monopolistic and environmentally harmful practices of the meat packing industry, Callicrate said he was “blackballed”— and his 12,000 head of cattle were shut out of the marketplace.

Most ranchers would have turned off the tractor, closed their gates and gone home.

Callicrate is very much not that kind of citizen. Instead of giving up, he came to Colorado Springs and opened a direct-to-customer meat business called Ranch Foods Direct.

At a warehouse on Town Center Drive in the Southeast he has created a food hub that includes a virtual farmers market pickup location, a locally sourced retail store, a meat pie company, organic foods from Ahava Farms, and a storage area where Southeast Express is distributed. There is even a cooperative where customers can buy portions of whole beef or pork, called Cowpool and Pigpool.

He has also become the face and the voice of the buy local movement, with his large newspaper advertisements for Ranch Foods Direct bannered with “Support Local Business.”

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“I think it is sad we have created price driven shoppers,” he said. By always looking for the lowest prices from big box retailers or prolific franchises, we are shortchanging ourselves, he said.

“You are buying stuff from somewhere else and your money is leaving the community every day,” he said. Buying from online retailers and big box stores is like “strip mining” a community, Callicrate argues — taking the resources and leaving behind the wreckage. 

Colorado Springs, he continued, has become the epicenter of the “Fast Food Nation,” as chronicled in the book describing the harmful impacts big box and franchise operations.

That sometimes means paying a little bit more. As the Ahava Farms website notes, “Yes, we admit our produce is a little more expensive than most. However, there are a couple of reasons for this beyond our sustainable methods, our all-heirloom produce and beyond organic nutritional value.” 

The produce is cheaper than if it were sold in Denver, and “getting pure, local, fresh food into the bellies of those that either can’t afford it or don’t have access to it” is the farm’s mission. “Colorado Springs and the surrounding area of El Paso County is a food desert.”

So Ranch Foods Direct is a small but powerful answer in the Southeast. 

The beef, pork, chicken and lamb are all from local farms. Even the chilis that are used in the hand-held meat pies produced by Mountain Pie Co.  in the Ranch Foods Direct warehouse, come from Pueblo. 

Why is it critical to pass up those gleaming meat cases at the big grocery stores? Because in decades past, Callicrate explained, farmers and ranchers received 65 percent of revenue from a meat transaction. Today, it is closer to 35 percent. That is money that is siphoned out of the community and spent on dividends for the big meat packers.

“You’ve got to stop shopping at Walmart and stop price shopping,” Callicrate said. “Any time you shop a big box or franchise restaurant, you are hurting your community.”

As he often says, “What you support prospers, what you feed grows.”

Buying local Hispanic

Colorado Springs and Southeast business leaders concede there is no organized effort to promote buying local goods and services. There is a Facebook page called #Keep Local Alive. There is a web page by the Colorado Small Business Development Center with its shop local logo of “Save Jobs, Stay Safe and Help Your Neighbor. Manitou has its own shop local campaign called “Manitou Made” which promotes goods that have been made in Manitou. But beyond the web pages there is not much, and ironically if you Google “shop local Colorado” you mostly get car dealers and homes for sale.

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So, the shop local effort is mostly up to individuals and their passion. One of those with this passion is media consultant Monica Hernandez.

If there are a smattering of silver linings in the COVID cloud, Hernandez experienced one of them.

In 2021, in the midst of the pandemic she started her own business in the Southeast, Viva Marketing. It provides social media marketing, regulatory assistance and business advice to predominately Hispanic businesses.

Hispanics make up just under 40 percent of residents of the Southeast with census data showing that 130,000 Hispanics live in El Paso County. 

For Hernandez, buying local means supporting the Hispanic businesses of the Southeast, some of which thrived during the pandemic.

Hernandez points to the various construction companies, from painters to plumbers to sheetrock installers who have done well as construction in the Southeast and the rest of Colorado Springs roars ahead.

But even as Hispanic-owned construction businesses have thrived, the Hispanic restaurants have struggled. One of their biggest challenges is a shortage of workers. 

Yet Hernandez rattles off a list of those that are doing well, including Don Guillo, Hacienda Villareal, Dos Muchos, Tacos El Güero and El Taco Y La Arepa.

She believes many Colorado Springs residents drive by Southeast businesses without thinking of patronizing them. “People just don’t pay attention to these,” she said. “They don’t look at them as businesses.”

Yet, these Hispanic businesses are employing whole families, she said, and are “giving other people the chance to work.” 

The Southeast could become quite a Hispanic food destination, Hernandez explained. With Peruvian, Mexican fusion, Puerto Rican and flavors from throughout Latin America, it is worth a trip to the Southeast. 

“If you want to eat authentic,” she said, “Hispanic food in the Southeast is the place.”

 Buying local keeps families and the community working. 

There are choices to be made when we head out to spend our hard-earned dollars. Just keep in mind that how you spend those dollars will mean hard-earned dollars for your neighbors.

Editor's note: The original story had the wrong number of cattle for Callicrate's Ranch. It's 12,000. Also, the city of Pueblo was misspelled. The Express regrets the errors. 

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