It’s been 10 years since I first spoke with Mike Callicrat, founder (political activist and independent cattle producer) of Ranch Foods Direct, about his approach to what was then called Peak Public Market. Project – a food-hub for growers and producers of the region, c. Something like Seattle’s Pike Place Market for Springs – never happened. Instead, a largely scaled-down (read: gloomy) Pikes Peak market was born, existed in constant flux, and turned dark in 2019.
“The Colorado Springs leadership rejected the idea of a public market,” he says, citing the city’s own public voting, which showed interest in a city public market at the top of a list of initiatives, among other projects. With (like a downtown stadium and Olympic museum) at the bottom of the list.
“Instead, we got three food halls and more businesses for Sysco,” he says.
Developing RFDs in various ways over the years, Callicrate has never abandoned its idea for the public market. And they’ve just announced a plan to name a “local food village” at the memorial adjacent to the Woodman Valley Chapel. (West of I-25 between Baptiste Road and Monument Exit.)
“The city of monuments appears to be very favored,” he says of early meetings with the city’s leadership.
“The goal” he says, “is to create a distinct local/regional food infrastructure that connects farmers, ranchers and independent food-related businesses directly to consumers, while building stronger, healthier and more sustainable communities.”
What appears to be a cluster of businesses on 8.3 acres (currently under contract, with a projected opening sometime in 2024 to close on 1 November), to include another RFD retail market and Sordo Boulangerie, Expansion to El Chapin (Mexican food cart parked outside RFD on Fillmore Street), Mountain Pie Company, Monte Cervino Winery and X & the Oak (which are currently signed), a brewery unit and several dining / With plans for a retail storefront (in other words: space is available for interested parties). He also notes commercial kitchen space to help new businesses grow as they develop their brands.
Callicrate says that each entity will have its own real estate, while enjoying more profitable market access, “while taking advantage of the synergy of co-locating with like-minded businesses.”
Callicrate makes a difference in that it will not be another food hall (even potentially with businesses sharing storage space and common areas, such as in a food hall), but rather to highlight its products. Towards a public market for producers. For example an RFD butcher would appear, cutting meat for customers, and customers could interface more directly with their baker, brewer, distiller, roaster, etc.
“We want manufacturing on display. What if we could make room for direct consumer dealing and eliminate the middleman? he asks. “And take predators out of the equation.”
He is referring in large part to Big Ag entities, the Big Food Cartel, he labels them, which are putting small farmers and ranchers out of business in rural communities and operating in unsustainable ways (environment, labor relating to practices and monopolistic business practice).
“We’re losing our food systems off the ground,” he says. “Consumers haven’t paid much for their food so far, and a lot of that money isn’t going to producers.”
His concept for this new public market space is as a community gathering place that really checks the boxes of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, he says, with regional and local food development in mind – “Building community and educating people around the food supply.”
“The key to making this work is having a growth partner,” he says, naming Phil Long Ford’s former CEO, Marvin Boyd, as that partner. (Callicrate had a prior fallout with Downtown Market Norwood Development President Chris Jenkins.)
“It’s the same answer we could have 10 years ago. That parking lot outside the Olympic Museum now could have been a public market, attracting thousands of visitors a day.” (FWIW, at least museum attendance has only grown.)
“But in many ways,” he concluded, “it would (will) be better than that public market.”
Now, it really needs to flourish.