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Reid Family

Their 'Waldon Pond'

Reid and Kelli Roberts take their foodie heritage back to the farm.

By Joann Pipkin

Reid family

As the four-lane leads us through the Queen City’s southside, the late summer sun glistens on the glass. Maneuvering through the morning drive, we venture south, then back east along the twisted 14, bound for the quietness of Christian County’s countryside. South once more, Fairview Road directs us to paradise — Paradise Valley, really.

Just around a bend, we indeed find paradise as the entry to Reid and Kelli Roberts’ well-kept villa welcomes us. 

Here, we’re reminded of our own youth — where time moves slower, where rural ways still thrive, where small towns breathe life into quaint coffee shops, where tucked-away farms and ranches carryout their toil.  

This day, morning’s stillness is broken only by the hum of a single dozer as it earmarks a soon-to-be fishing pond. The setting seems a million miles away from their life’s former path. Yet, this life is one the Roberts’ simply call a “blessing.”

"Are you familiar with Henry David Thoreau?” Kelli asks. “It’s our Walden Pond.”

Feeding Their Roots

historic barn on Whitworth RanchToday, Reid and Kelli Roberts’ Paradise Valley Land & Cattle, is a framework first crafted by her paternal grandfather, Floyd Whitworth. In 1962, the trucking company mogul began piecing together a contiguous 7 ½-square-mile tract of land, stocking it with cattle. The ranch became a haven for Kelli’s family, especially her grandfather. As a young girl, Kelli remembers stamping her handprints on the underside of the kitchen counter in the ranch house the couple now calls home with their four children — Arowyn, 14; Eli, 10; Nash, 6; and Josiah, 6 months.

“Her grandfather talked to me a lot,” Reid says. “He showed me a lot. We talked a lot about the ranch and about cattle.”

Those intimate talks were key in the formation of the Roberts’ operation as both Reid’s and Kelli’s knowledge of agriculture literally came from the other side of the table.

“I married the farmer’s granddaughter,” Reid says. 

The son of what he calls “blue-collar” parents, Reid says he couldn’t tell the difference between a steer and a heifer in the beginning.

Yet, the Roberts’ background in the restaurant industry brings new perspective to what some might consider a typical southwest Missouri cow/calf operation.

For 19 years, the self-professed foodie served as general manager of Metropolitan Grill in Springfield before introducing patrons to farm-to-table dining through Metropolitan Farmer restaurant — a venture he says really planted the seeds for their present-day operation. 

“I started thinking about the opportunities for the ranch on a bigger scale,” Reid explains. “We started teaching ourselves.”

In 2011, Reid and Kelli moved from Springfield to the family ranch, southeast of Sparta. At that time, Floyd was in his mid-80s, Kelli’s dad was retired, and Kelli’s brother was pursuing law enforcement. The couple looked forward to a new venture that would lend themselves a more family-friendly lifestyle than what the restaurant could provide.

Kelli adds that Reid’s passion for farming and the outdoors has come naturally as he spent a lot of time growing up hiking, camping and on the river.

“Being in the restaurant business you are full throttle all the time,” Kelli says. “Reid also loves his kids. This was the perfect way for him to be able to pick them up from school. He gets to spend all of those quality moments with them.”

Still, owning a restaurant helped prepare Reid for much of the same: hard work. 

“If you know me, you know that I’m all in,” Reid says. “I’ve got two speeds. One is asleep, the other is wide open. I was looking for inspiration. I’m very passionate, and I felt like there were huge opportunities here. And there’s nothing not to love about what we do, really.”

In 2015, Reid and Kelli established Paradise Valley Land & Cattle LLC, a commercial cow/calf and hay business. In the four years that followed, the couple purchased Kelli’s grandfather’s, father’s, and brother’s cattle as well as the operation’s equipment. Land is leased from a separate partnership controlled by Kelli’s father. 

Today, the Roberts’ lean on their restaurant knowledge to produce high-quality beef from their cow/calf operation.

Raising Quality Beef

cattle herd

Armed with a strong work ethic, Reid has immersed himself in every facet of the family’s cow/calf operation. From grazing to artificial insemination schools, Reid continues to grow his farming know-how. He also relies on the knowledge of trusted employee Ed Flatness, who stayed with the ranch after the Roberts’ started their operation.

“I wasn’t raised in agriculture,” Reid says. “I didn’t have any sort of preconceived notions.”

Currently, more than 400 commercial Angus and Wagyu cross cattle graze the hills and valleys of the Christian County spread. An atypical mix of bovine for the Ozarks region, Reid says his background in fine dining prompted him to raise the stock known for yielding a flavorful, high-marbling, healthy eating experience.

“I’m a foodie,” Reid says. “If you want the best of the best, you’ve got to try to grow the best of the best, right? I wanted to put on the plate the best we could.

Crossing Angus with Wagyu is all about creating a quality table meat, for his family or customers, Reid says.

To accomplish that, Reid seeks out bulls that will help improve the growth of his cow herd. 

cow

“I want to see how the cattle do from a grid and gain standpoint,” he explains. “I want growth, high conception rates. I want bulls that can go out and perform day after day, year after year, season after season. They work hard.”

Early on, the Roberts’ provided meat to local families and considered restaurants, but learned the logistics could be overwhelming. 

“Restaurants want primal cuts,” Reid explains. “They want T-bones, filets. But you only have so much of that on an animal. That’s hard to do logistically without big meat lockers.”

Now most of Roberts’ calves are sold in pot loads directly to a buyer after weaning. Some are also retained to market in halves and quarters to local customers. 

Reid’s goal is to raise reputation cattle whether selling at the local sale barn or directly to the feedlot. That said, he operates the ranch on an open-gate policy when it comes to cattle health and nutrition.

“I want my buyers to know what we do, how we do it,” Reid says. 

Growing the Grass

tall grass

With a large portion of southeastern Christian County bordering the Mark Twain National Forest, the region is known for its hilly, rough terrain.

“Christian County grows rocks,” Reid says simply. 

Under Ed’s direction, the duo converted more than 1,000 acres to rotational grazing. 

“Ed is a visionary in production agriculture,” Reid says. “We traveled to a lot of different regions, a lot of feed yards, packing houses, the whole segment of the beef industry just to get a grip on the production chain. Ed has been the heart and soul of the operation for a long time.”

Much of the ranch is Kentucky 31 fescue and mixed grasses such as timothy and orchardgrass. Transitioning pasture to endophyte free is a challenge.

clover

“We have clover, we’ve got some Sudan grass fields,” he says. “Our forage base is just basically clover, and Kentucky 31 is the gospel today, along with some native grasses.”

Working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the ranch completed a glade restoration project where cedar trees were cleared to allow sunlight on the forest floor. As a result, biodiversity was restored as native plant species returned.

“USDA has been a huge partner in helping us learn, be good stewards,” Reid says. “It’s not about how many cows you can carry but about operating as a good steward.”

Reid’s conservation efforts are all about preserving the ranch for the next generation.

"So many things have changed since 1970, 1990,” he says. “Either somebody picks up that torch and runs with it or the thing burns out.”

Fielding the Team

When they embarked on owning their own cattle operation, Reid recalled an advertisement he had seen of a father and son. The copy from FCS Financial read, “We invest in heritage, not acreage.”

Reids with Geoff Bowsher

The message alone was enough to prompt Reid to reach out to Geoff Bowsher in FCS Financial’s Springfield office.

“They are ag experts, 100% ag,” Reid says. They have been extraordinarily fair. They were willing to take the risk. It was a way for me to have huge opportunities, to continue the ranch.”

The relationship Reid and FCS Financial have developed has helped complete a team of valuable players in the Roberts’ operation. 

“I don’t need a lavish lifestyle, but I want to make sure that everything is covered, and the lifestyle and ranch are intact,” Reid says. 

For FCS Financial, Reid’s open-mindedness brings a new dimension to the operation.

“Why I like Reid’s perspective on everything is that he doesn’t have any preconceived notions on (how to operate the business),” Geoff explains. “He’s willing to take a different look at things, think about why he’s doing what he’s doing.”

Building a Future

Farming isn’t for the faint at heart. 

While some might trade the lifestyle for an easier way to make a living, Reid and Kelli embrace the opportunity to be involved in the agricultural industry.

looking at area for pond

In fact, Kelli works hard to maintain a presence in the local community. With her job in Springfield and the children attending Catholic schools there, she participates in the nearby Sparta farmer’s market each Saturday to network with her neighbors.  

“Whatever we have extra, it’s just a good way to stay in the community,” Kelli explains. “The farmer’s market has been my way to meet people.”

Although Kelli has a deep appreciation for farming, she says trucking was really the family’s bread and butter when she was growing up.

Present-day is a different story. 

fenceline

“Without passing on skills and knowledge the land will have no real meaning and no continuity,” Reid says. “This is an intimate operation. It’s bigger than just the cattle. It’s bigger than the kiddos. There’s a lot of blood and sweat that I want to put into this.”

So from fine-dining to the farm, this foodie and the farmer’s granddaughter create a legacy all their own.

“Today, we’re ranchers,” Reid says. “I have no idea how I got here, but I’m super grateful to be a part of it.” 

 

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