We had the good fortune of connecting with Allison Fender and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Allison, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Flying F Ranch was born out of the desire to produce locally raised beef, selling directly from our multi-generation cattle operation to our friends and family. We have consistently had locals reaching out to us to purchase beef for many years. However, beef direct wasn’t given much thought until recently. My family has operated the ranch as a “cow-calf” business for decades. This means the cow raises a calf yearly to the “weaning stage” of 8-10 months of age. At that time, the calf is weaned from the mother and sold at a local auction. The weaned calf then goes to a feed lot to be finished for beef. The cycle for us traditionally ended when we sold our weaned calves. My husband and I saw an opportunity to switch our focus to serving our neighbors and pursuing our passion of raising livestock. Being from a multi-generational cattle ranching family, and being a woman in a man’s world, makes it difficult to stray from “the way we have always done it.” However. my husband and I decided to take a leap of faith and start selling beef direct to locals in San Diego County area just before COVID-19 hit in March of 2020. As the whole county panicked, we saw grocery shelves empty and the reality of a broken food system surfaced. This was the moment we said to ourselves, “Let’s bring beef to our community.” Growing up, I was actively involved with 4H and FFA. As well, my husband and I both developed a passion at a young age for hunting our own meat. Our background in raising livestock and processing our own wild game meat lead to a great appreciation for knowing where our food comes from. We felt the need to connect our consumers to our cattle, family and journey. In addition, we want to be completely transparent about our beef and how our cattle are raised on native grass pastures, mountain spring water and finished with high quality grain.Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My family has operated cattle on the same property in the mountains of San Diego County for 4 generations. The ranch was originally a dairy operation, then slowly transitioned to beef. My grandpa decided to sell all the dairy cows in 1999 and bought a larger ranch in New Mexico and raised beef cows as a cow/calf operation in both states. The California ranches were taken care of by my dad when my grandparents were in New Mexico. My grandparents passed away in 2005 and 2010, leaving part of the ranch to my dad in Santa Ysabel, CA which is were we reside today. My husband, Bryce and I were married at the ranch in 2014 and my dad gifted us with 10 heifers. This gave us the opportunity to start our own herd and business. We worked together to come up with a good health program, pasture rotation, breeding program and eventually, the beef program. We came up with the “Flying F” brand as a spin off from my grandpa’s brand “Flying 7 on a lazy bar.” Ranchers brand their cattle for identification purposes. As well, it ironically doubles as our ‘business brand.’ We are very proud of how far we have come and how we branched out from traditional methods my family has used for a century by diversifying our operation and selling beef direct. Our journey to where we are today wasn’t smooth. As with many new businesses, there has been trial and error to figure out exactly what we want to provide for our loyal buyers. Recently, we sold part of our original cows to help purchase a new purebred Angus herd. We did this because we want to improve our genetics and raise the best beef possible to our customers. In addition, we want to have consistency with our product and have proven numbers to ensure we are making the right decisions when it comes to selling and marketing our beef. There have been countless hours of research, networking and investing to make this dream come to life. So far, we are optimistic that our risks will benefit us and our local customer base. We are anxious to see the end product from our new breeding program with the cattle we recently purchased. The new Angus herd we purchased have outstanding genetic potential that will produce high quality beef in an efficient and sustainable matter. Our goal is to have pasture raised, grain finished retail beef available in the next three years at local farmers markets and small family-owned restaurants. At the moment, we are selling ‘live’ beef in whole and half shares which is a very economical way to fill freezers with nutrient dense meat for our local families.Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My best friend, Stephanie moved to Montana after the 2004 wildfires burned her house down. I know if she came to visit San Diego, she would love some sunshine at the beach and a walk down memory lane in our hometown, Julian. I went to college in San Diego, and I would love to bring her to Old Town to get some authentic Mexican food since Montana seems to not have the awesome secret hole in the wall taco shops. We would take a walk down the boardwalks of Pacific Beach and La Jolla Shores and grab coffee at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. I love to visit the San Diego Zoo and of course Sea World, especially since we both have young kids now who are big animal lovers. We would probably shop at the local boutiques and get quick bites at coffee shops, juice bars and craft breweries. Some of my favorite places to eat in San Diego are Secret Cafe in Del Mar, Cheesecake Factory in Fashion Valley, and Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza (my college employer). I also love to visit the craft breweries like Ballast Point, Stone and Pizza Port for thirst quenching beer and fun appetizers. If we had the rare opportunity for a mom’s night out, I would love to go dancing at Moonshine Flats or catch a Padres game. Stephanie and I do have a love for some good wine. It would be fun to go wine tasting in Temecula. It would be a fun weekend trip to cruise around some of the fun wineries like South Coast, Europa Village, Ponte and Pelzter Family Cellars. Wine hopping in Temecula feels like you’re lost in Europe. Old Town Temecula has amazing restaurants to eat at like The Gambling Cowboy, Goat and Vine and Luke’s on Front. It is a unique and fun destination to visit. As well, many of the wineries have live music, concerts and entertainment. Towards the end of the trip, we would venture back ‘home’ and be a tourist for a day in Julian. We would start off by getting breakfast at Soups and Such which is always my go-to brunch spot. Later, we would get a slice of apple pie with a dollop of cinnamon ice cream at Julian Pie Co. Then walk around town grabbing candies and snacks at the Julian Cider Mill (which was my first job at age 14), shopping at Kathy’s Dress Shop and the Julian Mercantile. After a fun few days between San Diego, Temecula and Julian, we would go back to the ranch and set up camp at the large dam that we often visit during the summer. We spend a lot of our time kayaking, swimming, black berry picking and fishing for bass and catfish. I’m positive that we would be reminiscing about our childhood and upbringing around the campfire with our children dancing around with dirty faces and sticky fingers from s’mores. We would be cooking up one of our Flying F Tri Tips in a smoker and eat a plentiful dinner through out the evening until dark. Next day, we will wake up and probably go for a hike on the ranch after eating some campfire breakfast and continue the day on the ranch.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My husband and I would like to dedicate our Shoutout to our two sons, Warren (age 4) and Wells (age 2). Not only are they our biggest cheerleaders, but they are also our heart and soul behind the Flying F brand. In a tech driven world, reality is often skewed and tangible experiences seem diminished. We want to raise our children in a world full of diverse knowledge and understanding behind food production and serving the community. We believe that teaching our children how to raise animals will mold them into caring, responsible and motivated adults. These boys are our inspiration behind Flying F Ranch and hold us accountable to be good parents and business partners.
Facebook: Flying F Ranch
Mariah Oelke at The Soulshine Effect Photography (all photos with cowgirl hat and black shirt on) and Jennifer G Photography (photos with the kids in their cowboy hats and Alli and Bryce in caps.)