Q&A: Sitting down with Corner Post Meats in time for Christmas

We recently paid a visit to Corner Post Meats in Monument to hang out with co-owner Adrienne Larrew and her longtime love Dan Lorenz. The goal was to catch up on everything Corner Post is doing on their Black Forest ranch, why they’re changing the verbiage on meat labeling and how their livestock is benefitting the ground beneath their feet … or hooves …. all just in time to get that roast beast for your holiday feast.

Happy pigs are the best pigs.

Rocky Mountain Food Report: When did you start Corner Post Meats?

Adrienne Larrew: This is our fifth year in business. The first two years, we were still up in Wyoming and in 2013, moved back to Colorado.  Myself and Dan Lorenz own and operate the business.

Adrienne Larrew and Dan Lorenz, co-owners of Corner Post Meats with their sheep, Frank, and Great Pyrenees-Colorado mountain dog, Zeus.

Who else makes up the Corner Post Meats team?

We’ve got four guys: Mike Preisler helps out on a lot of the inventory, order packing, customer communication and deliveries; Matt Koster does a lot of our production and chef networking.  He’s quite the social butterfly; Andrew Evans and Trent Matthews are in production.  I am doing some job postings this week for customer service, inventory and production. So we are constantly growing.

Larrew and the coolest sheep ever, Frank. A weak twin, that Larrew and Lorenz bottle fed to nurse back to health.
Purple mountain majesty

What can you tell us about this gorgeous property?

We lease this property from the National Audubon Society. They are a conservation organization focused on bird habitat. A lot of people think of it like your grandma’s birding club, but they do a lot more on larger scale conservation and education.  So this property was donated to them by a gal, Janet Timmerman, who grew up in the area, and this was a part of her family’s original ranch.  Her siblings subdivided their inheritance and she wanted to see hers stay in conservation.  So we have an agriculture and conservation partnership, so that the two can cross over; rather than agriculture is “rape and pillage,” and conservation is “leave it natural and ignore it.”  So instead, there is a way that we can both improve the habitat by working together.  They have started a conservation ranching program to work with more ranchers, just like us, to recognize that there’s a lot of habitat in private land holdings.  And to work with those people about how you graze, and how that affects your ecosystem, and your habitat … It’s not A versus B.

The enchanting Black Forest

When did you move to Colorado Springs?

So we moved out here February 2015, almost two years ago, and this land sat vacant for almost 10 years.  The local Audubon chapter used it for bird hikes, but that was it.  So when we approached them about who we are and what we do, they were really excited to see something happen with the property.  As far as a habitat resource, it’s awesome because we have the trees — this is the upper end of Kiowa Creek.  So running water is what starts at the north end of the property, which is the lowest part, at Hodgen Road and flows on into Elbert, Kiowa and down to the Platte. The Black Forest itself is an amazing bird habitat, because it’s kind of this dot in the middle of all of the plains, so it’s a really good stopover for a lot of migratory birds.  And we’re able to produce some really great protein off of it.  It’s a win-win across the board.

Larrew with her retired sow, Shaniqua.

What animals are you raising and where can we find your products locally?

We raise grass-finished beef and lamb, and pastured-raised pork, chicken, turkeys and eggs.  We distribute direct to the consumer.  We sell everything from a pound of ground beef to a whole cow, cut up and packaged for your freezer for the home consumer.  And then we’re just shy of 20 restaurants along the front range, from Fort Collins down into the Springs: TILL; everything within the Blue Star group: The Blue Star, La’au’s Taco Shop, Nosh, The Meat Locker, all use our products.  Then R&R Coffee Cafe; everything within the Ivywild School and Urban Steam use our burger.   Urban Steam use our pork belly occasionally for their Taco Tuesday; Euclid Hall and the Rioja Group up in Denver.  And we’re always expanding. [We’re] hoping that within the first quarter of 2017, we can offer shipping to our direct consumers.  Right now we have pickup locations all along the Front Range.  So two weeks a month we do deliveries to our individual consumers and meet them at convenient spots around town.  So certain days we’re at this chiropractor’s office or at this gym, and all that is done through our website.

So where exactly can we get the good stuff?

We do pick-up at the ranch.  If you order by Monday at midnight you can pick-up Thursday or Saturday every week.  Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. or Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Everything is vacuum-sealed and frozen. Order by Monday, December 19, to get it by Thursday, December 22, or Saturday, December 24, before Christmas.

What if consumers can’t make it out to the ranch?  Where are your other pickup locations in town?  Still time  before the holidays?

We deliver down to Buckley’s Homestead Supply on 15th and West Colorado in Old Colorado City on  Saturday, December 17, at 10 a.m. We also have a delivery that same Saturday at Farrell’s eXtreme Bodyshaping, a gym, at Powers and Barnes by Costco.  The whole schedule is on the website.  We meet five to 10 people at one place so there’s not a delivery fee or minimum order.

We go closer to you.  But a lot of people really like to come out and see this is where it is — that connection.  People think: You’re the girl, you know the animals, and this is where they graze.  It’s not just trusting some label in a grocery store.  Instead you can ask; you can come see it.  That’s what’s awesome about this place.  So folks can come out and see it and you truly know what’s up.

Does Corner Post Meats participate in any farmers markets?

Last summer was the first farmer’s market we’ve ever done and we did Union Station and Highlands Square up in Denver.

Who processes the meat?

We slaughter all of our meat at Westcliffe Meats in Westcliffe, Colo.  southwest of here.  It’s a group of Amish guys that work up there and they’re awesome to work with.  They just got USDA certified for poultry, so for next growing season, because we only do the turkeys and the meat birds through the summer, off of green grass.  So next summer we’ll have those USDA certified so we can sell to restaurants and ship across state lines.  This year we’re really limited on the amount of poultry that we can do direct to the consumer.  We’re at a 1,000-bird limit.  But next year, we could do 20,000 if we wanted to.  Which I’m not sure we want to!

Did you sell all of your birds for Thanksgiving?

We sold out of our turkeys at Thanksgiving.  Two hundred!  So next year there will be more.

What is Corner Post offering up for the upcoming holidays?

So, for Christmas we have our sugar-cured hams and then whole beef tenderloins.  So they’re a three- to four-and-half pound whole tenderloin, and we also sell medallions, but the whole tenderloin is so festive!  And prime ribs.  We also have some bone-in pork loin roasts.  Those are our Christmas specials. We also have sugar-cured bacon, which is amazing; so then you don’t have to worry about nitrates or nitrites.  You don’t have that smoked, saltiness.  Instead you have this sweet meatiness and we bake it.  Then we do pork breakfast sausage and pork Italian sausage.  I love to make biscuits and gravy with it this time of year.  There’s lots of ways to utilize all the other sausages in the rest of your menu.

Sleepy bacon… Too soon?

Tell us about the animals’ diet.

We manage for the recovery time of the land as much as we do the graze time. So we want to be aware of how much forage they’re taking from an area, but then also how much time that area also has to recover from that disturbance or stimulation of the animal.

So winter time is a little different, because moving electric fences and things like that kind of suck when it’s snowing.  So our sheep right now, they go out and graze during the day and then we bring them in at night and do a night lot.  So we decide where we want them to go and graze during the day.  Whereas during the summer, they’re in electric fence nets, and they are on a two-acre area for like three days and then they get moved to a new three-acre area.  Same thing with our hens.  It’s a little bit longer graze time this time of year, because it’s a little bit more cumbersome to move everybody.

All of our cows, our sheep, our meat chickens and our turkeys are all harvested off of green grass.  That’s why we use the term grass-finished versus grass-fed.  There are a lot of marketing shenanigans, around grass-fed [but] it’s really grain-finished.  That’s where all the flavor and the nutrition comes from.  So we focus on talking about the finishing period.  Which is the last 60 to 90 days of their life.  So what you ate yesterday is going to affect you more than what you ate last year, is the theory with that.  We are on grass the entire time, but we focus on saying they’re on grass until the day that they die because that’s what’s most important.  So all our beef, lamb and meat chickens are in the freezer for the winter and we won’t harvest those again until spring when we have green grass again.

All of our poultry and our pigs eat organically, but we are not organic-certified.  At this point we don’t like third party certifying agents because we want you to come out here and see it, and say, “Yes, I know what that means and I’m good with that. I like that.  I like what you’re doing and I will vote for that with my dollar. ” Versus, how many customers have really ever read the organic standards and know what the ins and outs of it are?  On a broad spectrum it’s a good thing, but that being able to see it, touch it, feel it, experience it, ask direct questions, is seven steps past organic.  So yes we use organically-grown grain for our poultry and our pigs but we are not certified-organic.

All of our animals are outside year-round.  That is our gig.

The Black Forest fires in 2013 took a toll but the pigs forage in the fallen trees for larva and grub worms. By doing so they are taking in the activated charcoal with numerous benefits, and turning over the burnt bark instigating regrowth.

Do you buy grain for your pigs from any local breweries?

Yes, the pigs eat the spent grain we get from Bristol Brewing.

A face-full of local brewery goodness

Where do you get your birds from?

We buy them from a few different hatcheries.  Layer hens and our meat chickens are from Whiting Farms in Delta, Colo.  as well as Freedom Ranger Hatchery in Pennsylvania.  They overnight them to us so they are only a day-old when they arrive.  These are the hardiest and most vibrant chicks that grow into the best chickens.

Speaking of, any babies on the way?

We’ll have baby lambs in the spring; calves in the spring; piglets that were born last month and another litter in April as well. They’re adorable.

“Sometimes we just grab a beer and watch the pigs,” says Larrew. “They’re so entertaining!” And she’s totally right.

Do you sell milk as well?

No, we have a partnership with Larga Vista Ranch, which is a raw, grass-fed dairy, and we are a pick-up location for their shareholders. We do not sell raw milk. In Colorado you must be a shareholder; and all the folks who pick up milk at our place are shareholders with Larga Vista Ranch. We are simply a place for those members to pick up the milk. You can check out the FAQ page on Larga Vista’s website to make sure you understand how it works.

We ended our interview with Corner Post Meats with the thought that the farm is cultivating a progressive concept of agriculture and conservation.  Its fresh eggs, meat and poultry contain higher levels of vitamin D due to their level of exercise and access to our 300-plus days of Colorado sunshine.

In a time where labels can lie and fancy descriptions can persuade buyers into spending twice the price, we like to opt for the most sensible approach yet: Take a drive, meet your local rancher and see the animals grazing.

In other words, channel your inner Portlandia and go meet the chicken.

[Images: Dionne Roberts]

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