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The Families at James Ranch

Dave & Kay James

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Who would have dreamed that our children would return to Durango and four of the five children would be living on the ranch and running separate ranch related businesses? But that is what has happened! The James Ranch land is more fertile than it was in 1961 when we purchased it, and our family is dedicated to preserving and cherishing it and each other. Our original desire to be in agriculture and raise a family in a rural setting has been fulfilled by providing our children with this ranch and the opportunity for agriculturally diverse enterprises for future generations while serving the community with a local, healthy food source. Living and working our ranch land has been our bliss and our children are carrying on our values. We’ve so much to be grateful for!

Ott Family

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At the time in her life when she was exploring the world through international travel and attending college, Julie James Ott remembers her parents always telling her, "you can always come back to the ranch." There was a lot of comfort in that promise, yet, who would have predicted all of the James family siblings did come back to the ranch and/or the Durango area!

Julie and John Ott (a Fort Lewis College geologist grad from Mancos, CO) got married in 1990 and decided to start their new life together by joining forces with Julie’s parents, Kay and Dave. At that time, they began studying Holistic Management, with the sincere goal to keep the James Ranch in agriculture while supporting the families living and working the land. Twenty-seven years later, the Otts continue as one of the families living and working the ranch. Homeschooling their three boys on the ranch until high school allowed for their sons to deeply connect with the land, both the domestic and wild animals, run their own enterprises, and witness the extended families living and working together. Their eldest son, Gunther, has returned to work the ranch, being the first of the third generation to continue the agricultural stewardship of the James Ranch. The other two Ott boys are in college and traveling the world. John and Julie run the native tree farm, manage the laying hen operation, have a "biggish" raspberry patch, preserve the heritage apples trees on their property and run the vacation rental, A Place at James Ranch. Julie also manages the James Ranch Market, and John is the manager of the local, domestic water company. They are deeply dedicated to the families of the James Ranch, while also understanding the importance of their involvement and long term commitment to the resources of the Animas Valley and the Durango community.

Dan & Becca James

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We moved to Durango in 2000. For Dan it was "moving back to the ranch" and for Becca it was a whole new adventure. We came armed with a lot of enthusiasm, Dan's love for this land, and an idea that a 100% grass-based dairy and cheese making operation was our future. Tons of work, many mistakes, three children, and lots of calves later we have James Ranch Artisan Cheese. We have been grazing and milking cows and handcrafting farmstead cheeses here in the Animas Valley for 15 years. Our kids Grady (16 years old), Mason(14 years old), and Stella (10 years old) love their connection to the land and to really good, sustainable food. We hope you can feel the dedication and love put into every batch of cheese we make.

Stewart Family

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After 28 years, Cynthia James Stewart, the last of the five James children to return home, decided it was time to rejoin her family in Durango. She and husband Robert along with their adopted daughter, Sasha made the move home to the ranch in 2009. Cynthia had been living in big cities including New York, Houston, Chicago and San Francisco since she left Durango after high school graduation. With her degree in fashion from the Fashion Institute of Technology and recent career with the Men’s Wearhouse in their Corporate Giving department, she was unsure how her experience would translate to live back home on the James Ranch.

The mortgage industry, Robert's expertise, was in transition and was no longer an industry he wanted to pursue. Within their first year in Durango, they learned how other family members were implementing organic and sustainable practices in the production of their products. They not only worked extremely hard, but did it with love and pure motives. Robert and Cynthia were impressed with the quality and flavor of the products each family member was producing.

Cynthia felt the next step for the James Ranch should be a farm-to-table restaurant on the ranch property allowing the public to sample their exceptional products as well as visit their food source and learn about holistic agriculture and food production. Robert was game for the new venture and the Harvest Grill & Greens at James Ranch (AKA The Grill at James Ranch) opened in the summer of 2011.

The Grill crew has been serving award winning hamburgers, gourmet cheese melts, steak sandwiches, fresh salads and more every summer, and on winter Saturdays, ever since. "I feel so fortunate to be able to serve such delicious food to our customers knowing that the secret is simply fresh, organic, local ingredients produced with love," says Cynthia.

Joe & Jenn Wheeling

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Joe's Bio:

Joe was raised in the Badlands of western North Dakota on his family's cattle ranch. Life was unpredictable and he had to learn to adapt to radical weather conditions, understanding livestock, making veterinary diagnosis and spending days on horseback. He went to CSU and graduated with a degree in Animal Science. While at CSU he was on the CSU Meats Judging Team when they won the American Royal and was High Individual at the Houston Livestock Show. Joe got his MBA from the Wharton School of Business and was successful executive in corporate hospitality for 15 years. Now Joe is active in James Ranch Beef as well as other local businesses using his corporate experience and education.

Jenn's Bio:

The oldest of the James siblings, Jenn was raised in Durango, a product of the Durango School District and graduate of CSU where she has her degree in Interior Design and Construction Management. Following her passion for horticulture, she and Joe started The Gardens at James Ranch 20 years ago. A self-taught organic farmer, Jenn has tried to grow almost every vegetable and flower imaginable in the effort to find those that do the best in the local climate. In the off-season, Jenn is working on an epic historical fiction novel that gives her immense pleasure.

Joe and Jenn have been married for 31 years and are the proud parents of two powerful, ambitious and intelligent young women.

Gunther Ott

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I grew up on the James Ranch. Homeschooling through my 7th grade year allowed me to have a deep connection to and appreciation of the land, the domestic animals, and the abundant wildlife. After high school, I took an internship with a ranch in Harlowton, Montana affiliated with the Savory Institute, and managed their herd of 4,000 yearlings for the summer. Upon completion of my internship in Montana, I had the urge to travel abroad and found a yearlong apprenticeship in Ranschbach, Germany on an organic vineyard. On my return to the States, I rekindled my passion for Biathlon and joined the Army National Guard to race on their team. I spent a year on the national team training in Vermont and took first in the National Guard's Western Regionals in Alaska. I love skiing and biathlon but at that point, I realized that my love for animals was pulling me back to my family’s ranch and I also wanted to enroll in college. I quit the biathlon team, though I am still in the National Guard, and returned to Durango. I was hired to be the irrigator for the James Ranch and last summer I took over the Whey Good Pork business from my Uncle Dan. This is now my third year as irrigator and my second year running the pork business. I enjoy both professions, the joy of seeing the ranch flourish and the opportunity to raise pigs in the pastures of the James Ranch tree farm. I plan to continue to live and work on the James Ranch and further expand Whey Good Pork.