Circle B Ranch Puts the Heritage in Missouri Hog Farming

by Marina Backes, Circle B Ranch, guest contributor

The growing public demand for pasture-raised, sustainably produced meats has prompted increased interest among farmers. For Marina and John Backes, it prompted a move from suburban New Jersey — where they had long run a hobby farm — to rural southwest Missouri (near Springfield), where since 2009 they have raised heritage breeds of hogs on pasture at their Circle B Ranch.

Circle B Ranch will be one of the many exhibitors participating in FamilyFarmed‘s Good Food Festival & Conference that is being held March 16-18 at Chicago’s UIC Forum. Click here to purchase tickets for the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference (Thursday, March 16) and the Good Food Trade Show & Policy Conference (Friday, March 17). The Good Food Festival on Saturday, March 18 is, for the first time, providing free admission.

Please click on the links to read an overview of the Thursday programming and an article about a highlight of the Saturday Good Food Festival — the annual FamilyFarmed Chef of the Year Award, to be given to Chicago’s Honey Butter Fried Chicken, and the Chefs at Play demos featuring Rick Bayless of the Frontera Group, Rob Levitt of The Butcher & Larder at Local Foods, and other local culinary stars.

Enjoy Marina Backes’ story about Circle B Ranch and its commitment to sustainable and humane livestock raising.

The story of Circle B Ranch’s beginning isn’t as conventional as most around these parts of southwest Missouri.

John and I originally lived in New Jersey, where we had a small six-acre hobby farm. Over the course of the 26 years that we lived there, we watched the countryside around us develop into a solid suburbia. Tradition and farming evolved into an urban landscape where the inhabitants became less and less involved with agriculture and land preservation, and more interested in indoor entertainment and fast food.

In 2009, we relocated to Missouri to regain what we had lost. When John and I settled into Douglas County, we wanted to make good use of the lush and beautiful landscape, and we wanted our beginning to embody the ideals we had already built for ourselves.

Thus, Circle B Ranch was born. We wanted to create a farm that could provide healthy, environmentally sustainable, fair and affordable food for those around us — because what can be better than good, wholesome food that is locally grown and processed, humanely raised, completely sustainable, and positive for the economic environment?

John Backes, who owns Missouri’s Circle B Ranch with wife Marina, with heritage hogs that graze freely on pasture and in the woods. Photo courtesy of Circle B Ranch.

I can say with pride that Circle B Ranch has met all of our standards and more. Our heritage Berkshire, Red Wattle and Kurabota pigs are not caged like animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). They run free, getting plenty of fresh air, exercise and a natural diet gleaned from the land. We farrow all year round, meaning that our livestock supply is plentiful and maintained.   

Circle B Ranch sustainably produced bacon. Photo courtesy of Circle B Ranch.

The animals are allowed to farrow where they choose, whether inside a farrowing hut or a nest in the wooded areas of our pens. We do not interfere with their natural cycle unless our intervention is absolutely necessary. In other words, we don’t put stress on the pigs, don’t feed them any hormones, and don’t give them any antibiotics that aren’t essential.

When a hog is ready to be processed, we take it to our trusted and local processor, who holds the same beliefs we do. The meat is processed without chemical additives and only seasoned with natural ingredients. The quality of the meat is upheld. From beginning to end, the progression is cruelty-free and natural. Customers will always know what they are eating, and the taste is improved due to the raising.

Every one of our products — including Marina’s Italian Style Meatballs, Marina’s Italian Style Tomato Sauce, and Top Tomato Bloody Mary Mix — adheres to Good Food principles and practices.

Marina’s Italian Style Meatballs are a prime example of our values. These delicious mouthfuls are made from a combination of Missouri Beef and our own Circle B Ranch ground pork. The Animal Welfare Approved humane practices we implement at Circle B enhance the flavor and make this product fully sustainable.

Marina’s Italian Style Tomato Sauce, which is meant to accompany the meatballs, improves the flavor even more. This wholesome sauce is made from all natural ingredients and organic seasonings. We don’t put in any additives, preservatives or additional color. The sauce is even tastier because it is homemade fresh, in small 40-gallon batches, by local workers who believe in creating a healthy and quality product.

The sauce is mixed, cooked, bottled and labeled by hand. I, myself, supervise and take part in every step of the sauce’s creation. This allows me to guarantee that every bottle of sauce is as good as it can possibly be.

Missouri’s Circle B Ranch produces a range of value-added products, such as Marina’s Italian Style Meatballs and Marina’s Italian Style Tomato Sauce, created by co-owner Marina Backes. Photo courtesy of Circle B Ranch.

The same holds true for our newest product, our Top Tomato Bloody Mary Mix. I have taken part in every moment of its conception as well. One day, we were sitting around the kitchen lobbing out ideas (John and I often toss around product ideas because we continually think about our customers and consider their needs as well as our own — it’s not all about the profit.). John said, “Why not a bloody mary mix?”

So, we started experimenting. We pulled out my Marina’s Italian Style Tomato Sauce, added Big John’s Chop and Steak Sauce, and poured in just the right amount of water to get the desired consistency and flavor.

The greatest aspect of this product is that it combines two of our sauces. Why do I say this is the best aspect of Top Tomato? There are no extra ingredients to purchase, production time is minimal, and product waste is minimized. The combination allows us to keep consumer cost as low as possible, which is what we want to do. We want to offer products that are not only marketable, but that are affordable for everyone.

At Circle B Ranch, we are proud to be a multi-faceted farm. While our company may still be fairly young, John and I feel that we have been able to accomplish so much in so little time. We have accomplished what we had set out to do. Circle B Ranch’s products are sustainable and humanely raised, locally grown and processed, and priced fairly. We are living our dream of providing good, wholesome, 100 percent natural food for everyone.

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