2023 EPCCD Small Acreage Conservationist of the Year
The El Paso County Conservation District is pleased to nominate Chris and Christiann Schade, the visionaries behind Our Red Barn Ranch, for the Small Acreage Conservationist of the Year award. Chris and Christiann embody the essence of this award, recognizing individuals who implement innovative conservation and agricultural practices that have proven successful, all while reaching diverse audiences, forming new partnerships, and spreading the vital conservation message. The Schades and their 40-acre ranch serve as an outstanding model of excellence for inventive approaches to small acreage, sustainable farming, and environmental conservation. Their dedication coupled with a commitment to spreading the conservation message and engaging diverse audiences, makes them a deserving candidate for the Small Acreage Conservationist of the Year award.
Raised in the panhandle of Texas, Chris’ youth was spent farming, gardening, and managing animal herds, as well as two years working at his aunt and uncle’s cattle ranch. With a degree in Occupational Safety and Business Management, Chris spent many years working in the construction and mining industries, before realizing his dream to build not just a herd of diverse animals and work the land with independence and sustainability goals in mind, but also to build a network of like-minded individuals who yearn for meaningful interactions.
Christiann is a remarkable individual whose journey has taken her from bustling city streets where she was raised to the serene landscapes of Our Red Barn Ranch. Professionally, as the only female working in a high-tech engineering office, she stands as a trailblazer in the predominantly male-dominated field. But, her story transcends that urban office. Alongside her husband, she has emerged as the strength behind their extraordinary educational farm. Christiann’s story is one of determination, dedication, and a deep-rooted commitment to both the land and the people.
Starting over two decades ago when Chris made the notable transition from the professional business world to embrace a life strongly rooted in conservation-minded farm and ranching practices and Chris and Christiann embarked on a journey of learning, growth, and community engagement. The establishment of their current location, including the entire ranch operating with solar power, was delayed by the pandemic. They both worked full time while building the ranch until Chris’ official city-job retirement last month. Their efforts have opened doors for those seeking a connection to the land and an understanding of the hard work of rural life with our finite natural resources.
What sets the Schades apart is their unwavering commitment to sharing the work of farm life and conservation with a wide range of audiences. From the moment they began, Chris recognized that many people yearn for the opportunity to connect with animals and the land, even those who may not (yet) appreciate farmers and ranchers, or agriculture and home/farmsteading. Their welcoming spirit has drawn countless visitors to the ranch, fostering a sense of wonder and appreciation for our lands. Their commitment to introducing people to the beauty of the region and its gifts, the healing power of wide-open spaces with non-polluted air and clean waters, and learning about the environment and sustainability, is transformative.
Through hands-on learning experiences at the ranch, which includes alpacas, Angora goats, cats and kittens, chickens, turkeys, Dorper sheep, horses and ponies, and livestock guardian dogs, Chris has welcomed people from near and far to engage in interactive experiences. From mentoring livestock owners and sharing the wealth of knowledge, shearing days and lessons in processing fleece and fiber, to events with the interactive Chicken Bus, Chris’s enthusiasm for conservation and community-building is evident. They have created an annual shearing event, which hosts numerous other alpaca farms; of 65 alpacas sheared this year, 35 were from visiting farms with individuals happy to learn and share the work. One woman, a delightful 78 years-young, dove in this year and enthusiastically helped with the gates. In the past year, they’ve hosted over 600 visits including school groups, disability groups, families, individuals, and even Harvest Host guests from all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, and even Switzerland!
Furthermore, they extend the reach of conservation beyond the ranch’s borders; they actively participate in local events, often bringing the ranch’s animals to unexpected places, even hosting “Alpacas at the Pub” nights. Their vision of resiliency, partnership, collaboration, and healing through tours and mentoring others is inspiring. Their dedication to conservation, education, and community engagement makes them a deserving candidate for the Small Acreage Conservationist of the Year award.
The El Paso County Conservation District presented the preceding video to the CSCB Upper Arkansas Watershed Association on 21 Sept 2023 for their consideration to advance this nomination to the 2023 State competition.