Tall Grass Lake and Orchard plans to cater to a variety of taste
VINITA, OKLA. – Agriculture is nothing new to Ken Egnor.
The Vinita, Okla., native’s parents, Sam and Sandy Egnor, were dairy farmers. The couple was a team, with Sandy taking over milking and raising two kids when Sam broke his back. As time went on, Sam and Sandy, however, made a few changes.
“I can remember being in kindergarten and being out there milking with him. The dairy business was seven days a week, and all work, but it was a great childhood,” Ken recalled. “In 1990, it transitioned to beef cattle. The beef cattle were a lot easier and not as demanding, but it still had its challenges. Dad was the one who got us all started in this.”
Just as Sam and Sandy did more than 30 years ago, Ken and his fiance Melissa have changed the operation and are finding their niche. They recently rebranded their endeavors from Big Cabin Ranch to Tall Grass Lake and Orchard and offer guests a look at life on the farm.
“We’re tapping into agritourism,” Ken explained of the little over 200-acre farm, some of which is part of Ken’s parents’ farm.
Those seeking a getaway can select a spacious cabin or “rough it” by pitching a tent. Guests have access to raised-on-the-farm beef while at Tall Grass and can purchase additional USDA-inspected beef to take home.
“We want people to have the whole experience on the farm and experience the beef,” Ken explained.
Tall Grass is restructuring its cattle operation, selling out the cow/calf pairs, but there are plans to bring stockers and feeders back to produce the operation’s, all-natural craft beef.
“We have a demand for our beef,” Ken said, adding they had about 60 momma cows. “In the future, we are just going to have steers. Having the cow/calf pairs is a lot of extra stress, and I would say the profits are better by eliminating the cow/calf operation and going with stockers.”
The cattle pastures are now leased, but plans are to reintroduce a few head for beef sales, then fully utilize the fields in four years, focusing on producing individual cuts for on-farm and online sales.
“We don’t want to overcrowd it, but we do want to maximize it,” Ken said.
Diversifying the land and exploring different outlets, Ken and Melissa feel, is the best use of their property.
“We’re located in a very good spot, just off the Will Rogers Turnpike, and Route 66 and Highway 69 converge there,” Ken explained. “We have those tourists traveling through on multiple routes. They might book a one-night stay, and they would rather do that on the farm than a Motel 6, and they love it.
“We are also able to offer them our farm products while they are there. When they book, you tell them, ‘Hey, we have steaks and beef from right here on the farm,’ and they love it.”
Ken added a night at Tall Grass may be the first and only farm experience for some guests, so they strive to offer them the best experience possible.
Visitors can glimpse the farming way of life while enjoying the great outdoors, including a fully-stocked 5-acre lake, other activities and amenities.
The lake serves as a source of irrigation for the property.
“You get the pre-fertilizer with the fish,” Ken said. “We also have the manure from the cattle that can be used for the vines and trees. We aren’t into permaculture, but we are planning to eventually do hydropower off the dam of the lake, which goes with my real job, which is working for a power company.”
In addition to the farm, Ken and Melissa have also started a cidery in nearby Chouteau, Okla., and an orchard that joins the Tallgrass Lake property and vineyard with 100 Arkansas Black apple trees, Gold Rush, Gala, Yellow Delicious and Cabernet Sauvignon vines.
Ken is in a grape management course through Oklahoma State University, and they hope to brand and label their own wine.
“The ultimate goal is to make cider and wine, but that’s five years down the road,” Ken said. “The Arkansas Black apples are very popular, and a lot of chefs like them. They are great cider and cooking apples.”
They hope to market a “wine, cider and steak experience.”
“The products complement each other,” Ken said.
The orchard and vineyard are just another aspect of the agritourism market the couple plans to tap into.
“It’s another major highway intersection, and it’s in an Amish community,” Ken explained. “It’s also near another orchard, so it’s strategically located to raw fruit from other farms and processed there. We hope, once those doors are open, it will be a food hub.”
Ken and Melissa have recycled a container into a cabin/wine-tasting room for guests.
Other species of livestock may be introduced at Tall Grass Lake and Orchard, but there are no set plans.
“Maybe some hogs because we love barbecue,” Ken said. “Maybe some pastured chickens.”
Ken joked Melissa is “just along for the ride” but added they make a good team. Melissa said she also has plans for the farm.
“We make a joke about us being Green Acres because I’m from the city,” Melissa said. “I’m begging him for a couple of Highlands cows. I just think they are so pretty. He says we can do one, but we will need two because she will need a friend.”
Ken said there were breaks from the farm between college and moving from the area, but it was always a part of him.
“I didn’t abandon it like some kids do,” Ken said. “For some, when Dad dies, they sell it, cash in, and go to the beach or the city. That wasn’t my cup of tea. I wanted to keep his legacy alive, grow it, and hopefully pass it down to my kids.”