Black History Month: Preserving the Legacy of Family-owned Ranches

  • East central Texas has the highest number of Black farmers and ranchers in the U.S.
  • A former Wall Street executive is on a mission to keep ranches in the family

Freestone County, southeast of Dallas, boasts gently rolling prairies, fertile soil and more Black farmers and ranchers than any other county in the United States.

But the area’s ranchers face a host of challenges: barriers to capital and markets, land that’s been subdivided through generations, and ways of ranching that are no longer sustainable with rising land prices.

Kimberly Ratcliff hopes to preserve their legacy, helping families hold on to their ranches through land stewardship and business partnerships. She heads 100 Ranchers, a non-profit organization that unites local ranchers to share best practices.

“We are all so independent here,” said Kimberly, whose family owns Caney Creek Ranch. “But by bringing the community together, you have more strength in numbers as well as a group of people who are working toward a common goal.”

Thanks to her job on Wall Street, Kimberly understood the market side of the business. She spent seven years at Bloomberg, a company that provides crucial market data on commodities such as cattle.

But when her family bought a ranch in Texas, she discovered a disconnect between the people who worked the cattle and those who traded them.

“Working on both ends literally drove me crazy,” she said. “I decided I wanted to work on the agriculture end and not the platform that people were trading our products on.”

She swapped her high heels for cowboy boots and headed home to the ranch.

Her first stop was Texas Christian University to study Ranch Management. She then began partnering on ranch improvement projects with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an organization dedicated to putting “conservation on the ground.”

Kimberly discovered that what’s good for water and wildlife is also good for cattle. For example, integrating native trees with pastures provides shade for cattle, creates wildlife habitat and helps protect the watershed.

She’s also participating in Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Managed Lands Deer Program to foster and support sound management and stewardship of native wildlife and wildlife habitats on private lands in Texas. 

“We're so consumed with what we can immediately make money on that we can forget about all the other things that support us. But if you have healthy grasses, if you have wildlife on your ranch, that’s an indicator that your ecosystem is healthy as a whole.” 

Kimberly is sharing this message with her fellow ranchers. She’s also finding ways to break through barriers to doing business, securing grant money for projects to connect ranchers with their end customers. Local ranchers recently met with representatives from McDonalds, Pizza Hut and other corporations to discuss how they could forge pathways to profitability. 

“This is the opportunity to tell our story,” Kimberly said. “What drives me is building our legacy. I want to keep generations ranching.”

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1 comment:

  1. Kimberly, you go girl! Not many people can afford to operate a ranch at a loss. Thanks for your efforts to cut out the middlemen.
    Fragmentation of property from one generation to the next is another issue many families face. My family is dealing with that too.