The award recognizes Colorado farms and ranches that have at least 160 acres and have been in the same family for 100 years. It must actually be in production, operating as a farm or ranch. This is the year that Fox Fire Farms qualifies, so he applied, owner Richard Parry told the Times.
Fox Fire now occupies 910 acres, he said, although it has been as much as 2,200 acres.
"Arthur Jones was my grandfather on my mother's side," Parry said. "They (Arthur and wife Dovie) came from the little Mormon settlement in the San Luis Valley," in the Sanford/ Manassa area. "My mother (Alberta Jones) was born in the Ignacio area in 1909," he said. "Grandfather Jones was leasing land (in the Ignacio area) and raising sheep. He bought out all the homesteaders in this valley." The first land was purchased in 1916.
Richard Parry's father was Evan Parry. "My father was fresh out of New Mexico State, an engineer. He came here to work on the Vallecito project." Construction of Vallecito dam started in the late 1930s. He met Alberta Jones, and they married. Alberta's sister Evelyn married Glen Payne, so the Payne family is considered part of the mix along with the Joneses and Parrys.
Evan served in the SeaBees during World War II, using his civil engineering background. He later worked for the Bureau of Reclamation and on the Navajo dam project, Parry said.
"My grandfather (Jones), after WWII, talked his son-in-law into buying land here and starting sheep ranching. He had two careers, the Bureau, the Navajo projct, and he kept the sheep business going at the same time. He died in 1967 when I was 12."
Parry said he took over running the ranch in 1971 when he was 17. "I went to college later and got a degree in finance and business administration." He said the name Fox Fire Farms came from a series of back-to-the-land books in the 1970s.
The farm has had a lot of operational changes, most recently the focus on developing wine grapes that will grow there for the Fox Fire Farms Winery. The first vines were planted in 2004. "I do the wine making. I've done many different things. It's a personality type, always looking for a new idea." He now has eight acres of grapes and adds an acre each year. His wines have won awards at the Colorado State Fair and a competition called the Governor's Cup.
Parry said he did conventional sheep ranching until around 1985, when he learned Alan Savory's wholistic system of high intensity rotational grazing. It replicates the conditions of wild herds of grazing animals that move from place to place.
"In the modern times, Fox Fire Farms has always been changing. ... I instituted rotation grazing" in subdivided pastures. There are about 80 of those, which he calls paddocks. "We've tried to be in the lead. We were probably one of the first in the Southwest to start implementing Alan Savory's ideas."
He continued, "The other major thing, in around 1997, we started an organic meat business. I include my wife Linda in this. We've been married 42 years this year."
They had their first web site in 1998. "We were one of the two farms that I could find that did direct ship (of frozen packaged meat) to a customer in New York or Los Angeles. We did that until 2010. We pulled the plug on that because the wine business was growing. I couldn't keep all the balls in the air. ... By 2010 I said I can't do the organic meat business too. All those lambs and calves, we got to where we had to take them to Denver (for processing) because Sunnyside Meats couldn't handle the volume. We still have all the sheep (and cattle), all the livestock, but we quit the processing to create package meat."
Parry said it's now a conventional livestock business, with animals sold to buyers. "We had 1,500 ewes at our peak. We cut back to 700 and sold some property. I used to run them on Middle Mountain (above Vallecito). That was my grazing allotment for many years. When I cut back, I don't run on federal land any more. I used to have a BLM allotment west of Cortez where I took the sheep for the winter. That's how it's been done for generations - summer in the mountains and winter in the deserts. Sheep can thrive in both climates."
Parry commented, "I 'sold' that ranch (west of Cortez) to Bill Clinton when he declared Canyons of the Ancients (as a National Monument). It was 9,000 acres."
Along with livestock and wine, for several years the Parrys also hosted weddings as a business. Wife Linda had a big hand in those. "Linda told me I had to change the look of the place. We cleaned up everything. She's been very instrumental in getting it to look the way it does," he said, with flower beds and manicured lawns. Their grown children have also worked on the farm, although not this summer.
Now, along with conventional livestock production and sales, the winery is open to the public Thursday through Sunday afternoons now through Oct. 31, with Friday evening live music, wine, and food events through September. The winery is open by appointment in the winter. Fox Fire also hosts an annual fundraising dinner for the Ignacio FFA and a Taste of Spring event in May, with a chance for visitors to see the baby animals. Their web site is www.foxfirefarms.com.