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Leaving Washington D.C. Behind—and a More Wholesome Life

(Courtesy of Britt Fisk)

“I think people want to know the story behind things. And I think part of what they’re buying into is the story of our family on our ranch. And so it’s beautiful to be able to share that in some small way.”

A former staffer in President George W. Bush’s White House, Britt Fisk has since left Washington D.C. behind. Now married with seven children, Fisk lives in Northern New Mexico, where she and her family raise cattle. Although she grew up as a fifth generation rancher, she temporarily left that lifestyle behind. However, her husband, who had no previous agricultural experience, suggested they raise their family closer to the land. As Fisk writes, “We have been blessed with the opportunity to work hard in good weather and bad in order to care for God’s land while providing a life a bit more simple than most for our children.” In this interview, Fisk joins Merion West and Kambiz Tavana to discuss her approach to life for her and her family, the values she hopes to instill in her children, and how they navigate the business of ranching.

I first noticed your account on Instagram based on the business model you have for selling beef. But as I went through more and more of what you share, I saw it’s more than just that. You project a kind of life as we knew it before the time of social media and modernization, but the irony is that you are on social media. Let our readers know more about you, your family, your work, and what you are sharing on your social media.

Sure—what we do and the kind of life we are living. I grew up living here [in New Mexico]. Then, I moved away for college, and then I was actually in D.C. working for a little bit and then went to grad school, and I honestly never thought that I would move back. I mean I loved the life growing up, but it was so dependent on nature and markets that it scared me as a young girl. And I didn’t want that for my family some day, but, as fate would have it, I married Jeremy, who actually had never been a part of agriculture before. He was studying to be a geo-physicist. Right before his master’s graduation, he thought that maybe he would like to live a life which wasn’t behind the desk all the time. He finished school, and my parents actually needed extra help on the ranch. So we moved here ten years ago, and he just started learning.

Quickly, where in New Mexico exactly are you?

In Northern New Mexico, outside of a little town called Clayton. It’s just kind of an area of grasslands in the northern corner of New Mexico.

Okay.

And we had just had our first child, and now we are expecting our eighth. Like I said, I grew up ranching, raising beef cattle. We’ve done this for generations, and my husband and I—along with my sister and her husband, who currently in Chicago—thought that it would be good to diversify on the ranch a little bit. So, instead of just having commercial cattle, we wanted to be able to offer some of our beef to consumers directly through the shipment of our beef in ready-to-cook form to doorsteps nationwide. Last year at this point, we decided to branch out and try to do that. So we’ve been actually selling it since November of last year, and it continues to grow, and we’re hoping that it will continue to do so.

But basically in terms of Instagram and the life we lead and portray, we’re out here just hoping to give our kids a simpler life and instill some ethics and values that they might not find elsewhere. They might, but this environment just creates an atmosphere for focusing on those values we hope they leave home with: faith, the importance of family, an excellent work ethic, and the beauty in simplicity. So we thought that through social media it would be a way to let others look into a life that they might not be familiar with, and that’s why we’ve shared so much.

So your husband had never been a rancher before?

My family has ranched for five generations, but my husband had not. He was living in the city. He actually was a graduate of West Point and spent eight years in the Army. When he got out, like I said, he was studying geo-physics and then decided to try this.

Initially, then, it was your husband’s idea?

It was my husband’s idea. I was open to it. Like I said, initially, I didn’t think I’d ever come back just because I didn’t know if I could deal with the risks and dependency. So much is out of your control in this business, but he wanted to try it. He missed the outdoors aspect of the military and the team-building environment, and he thought that he might find that here with my family on the ranch. He just said he wanted to try it. It’s been a long road of learning things, but he’s really enjoying it, so I think we’ll be here a while.

Who was the mentor for your husband in ranching? Was it you?

I know a little bit, but, honestly, it was my father. And my mother works right alongside my father, and they just kind of took him under their wing and showed him everything. It took years for him to become confident in it, but, as he did, then we decided hopefully to take part of our life here and developed this direct selling beef business alongside of the ranching that he does on a daily basis.

What was the learning curve like?

Gosh! I would say it was at least five years before he felt really confident in it. I mean he had to learn everything that my parents learned about cattle. He had to learn how to ride a horse; he head to learn how to manage the land—also coupled with learning how the markets work. This is just something that he had never ever been a part of, but he is an intelligent man. He learned quickly, but that confidence took a while to build.

You mentioned that you were in D.C. at some point in your career, correct?

Yes, between undergrad and graduate school.

And what were you doing in D.C.? 

I worked at the White House Office of Public Liaison. I was an assistant to the director. Our office was in charge of planning events that happened on the White House lawn, and I was just an assistant.

Which administration was it?

It was the Bush administration, Bush 43.

I work in D.C., too; it’s this city of political junkies! Do you miss it at all—I mean do you sometimes compare your life in D.C. with the kind of life you have right now?

You know, there are days that I do. I love the pace of the city life. I love being in the know all the time and just being right in the middle of the action. But I’ll tell you—and I probably left D.C. too early—but I was surrounded by women whose careers were the most important part of their life, which is wonderful for them. And, after a little while seeing their families come in for different tours or just being around them and seeing how the kids gravitated toward the nannies instead of their mothers, I just imagined myself in the future getting so caught up in my career that I would be in the same place. I knew deep down that I wanted to be a mother and that I wanted to devote all of my energy towards that when I had children, so that’s when I decided to go back to graduate school. I got my master’s in public administration, with a focus on non-profit management. Then, once I had children, I stayed home and helped on the ranch. But yeah, I do miss it. I think it’s easy for someone to see an Instagram like mine or picture somebody in agriculture and think that they wouldn’t even know what to do in the city— and maybe even that they lack something in intelligence—but that’s so far from the truth. City life is a life I loved, and, sometimes, I look back and reflect on this and miss certain parts, and I wish I would have done things differently, but I’m glad I am where I am now. But I’m also glad I had the experience of living there.

I understand that about missing some parts. Sometimes, on weekends and while I’m not working, I’m still attached to my phone and watching press conferences. My wife says, “You’re not working today. Why are you watching this?” And I say, “I don’t know—maybe I just want to know what’s happening.”

Exactly!

Another thing I wanted to ask you: You said you wanted your children to have a different kind of life, with values and family foundations, but they haven’t had a chance to compare this to anything else, like you and your husband have had. Do you think they can fully understand what kind of life they have, as compared to say the rest of the world? 

You know I think it takes that experience elsewhere [to know], and I think that’s what was the value: going away to college and then taking flight from there and determining that I wanted to come back to this lifestyle. If I had never left, I wouldn’t know what I was missing, and there might be a part of me that was always yearning to experience something different, so we hope to give [our children] all the experiences possible. Like I said, my sister is in Chicago. Hopefully, through visits [there], they can experience those things. But I hope—at some point—that they will leave here and experience life in a different way and then determine what’s best for them: determine if they want to come back and raise a family here, or if they want to take a different route. There will never be a time that we pressure them to keep up with this lifestyle. It’s just something that we think builds a firm foundation in their youth, and then they will decide for themselves someday.

Are they avid social media content producers the way you are?

My oldest is just nine, so they’re not even involved in any of that stuff yet.

But they must wonder what mom is doing with her phone from time to time, right?

Yeah! And they ask from time to time if they can show a video to the world. So, every now and then, they’ll hop on and tell me something or show me one of their projects or something like that, but that’s about the extent of it right now.

I usually have lots of reservations about social media, and I’m trying to moderate my use, but I enjoy your Instagram account. The problem that I have with social media is that there is little genuine life there; everything is doctored or staged. But your social media account is very, very different. It’s the beauty you show, and it’s authentic. Do you only post your own content, or do you also interact with others on social media? 

I do interact somewhat with others. I’m a bit like you; I constantly question if I’m spending too much time on it and not enough time with the people in front of me, my family. So I have conversations like this with my sister all the time, and she reminds me of kind of what you said: that if we can put it in its right place and show others some authentic beauty in a different style, then it can be a way to help others. I do interact with people from time to time. I try to make it really genuine—instead of just looking for new followers or things like that—by looking at it as an opportunity to reach people. I want to just give people a glimpse of beauty because I think that sometimes this is what we miss in our life.

I think that’s a huge chunk of what we miss in life. Your posts—and the way you live your life and project it on social media—are very rare in the social media domain. Often, social media has become a place for partisan politics. But you don’t do any of this. However, do you ever get into moments with so-called classical feminists?

I don’t think they like looking at my account—I don’t know! There will be times when people will ask me, for instance, how I manage life with seven kids. And, sometimes, things that you don’t think are controversial—like sleep-training or the way you feed your infant—all of the sudden become controversial. So I don’t mind sharing what works for me, but, at the same time, I don’t want to spend my days just bickering back and forth. I have found from time to time there just comes a point where—and I think everybody knows this—that it’s very hard to have a civil disagreement anymore. So I don’t look for ways to disagree with others, but if someone asks me how I do things or what are my opinions on things, I’m not going to shy away from that either. But if you go and read comments on things that you disagree with, you know how your temperature rises, and I just don’t want that. But, like I said, if someone were to come and ask me directly what I believed in, then I would tell them and gladly converse with them but not in a way in which it gets argumentative and pointless.

Can you describe your business model? 

We did some research, and then we went to a workshop in California with someone who had already been direct selling. The way we set it up—it works actually really well for us. It’s my husband and I and then my sister and brother-in-law; they both live in Chicago and work for a non-profit organization, where my brother-in-law is the head of marketing and my sister is the head of design. So they took over those legs of the business, and that became what they focused on. And then my husband focuses on the production; he raises the beef; he feeds the cattle. So he does the ranch aspect of it, and then I’m kind of the social media face of the business. I interact with all of the customers and potential customers, so it really was such a blessing because we were able to use our unique gifts and talents and pull them together to make the business run. So we’re in constant communication with each other.

What we do right now is we raise the cattle over here on the ranch just like we normally would, and then we keep them longer than we do the rest of our cattle until they’re ready to be processed. Then we take them to a local processor, and once we receive the beef in hand, we label it and mark it with our branding. We box it up; we ship it anywhere in the United States in a matter of one to three days. Then you have fresh beef at your disposal that you know was humanely raised and well-taken care of. So we’re giving others a little piece of the life that we live here and love.

Has this model been used before and been successful, or is it something that had never been tried until you came up with it and perfected it?

I think other people are doing it on a larger scale, and other people are doing it on a smaller scale. It’s finally gotten to a point where they shipping materials are well-made. And with the ability of UPS and FedEx to get so many places so quickly, it’s finally feasible. And so you’ll find small farms around the United States doing the same thing. It’s kind of like a small version of say Omaha Stakes or any type of food delivery service that is shipped on dry ice quickly throughout the United States. And so I think you find it on different scales. We right now have close to 450 customers, but there are people out there that I think have thousands of customers, and there are people out there that may have 50. In the last decade or so, people realizing that you can buy directly from a producer and find some kind of joy and satisfaction in knowing your rancher or farmer who produces the food on your table.

Do you think this is the biggest appeal for your customers? That they know they are buying directly from someone who actually put the work in the right way, so they feel much better about it.

I do—I think that Americans now want to know a lot more about everything, especially about the food they eat. And I think part of it, too, is that may see the initial appeal, and then they realize that it’s a really good product. And then maybe they stay as customers. I hope that’s why they’re buying from us; I hope they see the love and hard work that goes into producing this. I hope they want to know that it’s coming from a small ranch in New Mexico, rather than getting it at your grocery store and not knowing where it’s from. Granted, the grocery store food is excellent. It’s just that small business aspect of America, which is becoming more popular and necessary I think. It benefits both the producers and consumers.

I want to say lastly about your social media account—I’ve been doing journalism for more than 20 years and have studied social media a lot as a concept. Your social media activity is life as it is. There’s life; there’s belief; there’s you raising kids. It’s a very unique perspective, and I really commend you for that and for sharing it with us.

Thank you. That’s very kind of you to say. I really appreciate you saying that. I think people want to know the story behind things. And I think part of what they’re buying into is the story of our family on our ranch. And so it’s beautiful to be able to share that in some small way.

And it’s been a big transition from city life for you and your husband to the ranch. 

Right! You just have to trust that it will work out in the end. It’s scary in the beginning, and at times throughout—just like anything is—but it’s so, so worth it.

Thank you again for your time.

My pleasure.

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