Over yonder, just a little south of Tucson and in the open fields of Sonoita, Arizona, resides the Vera Earl Ranch.
The original ranch, which is nestled in the Sonoita Valley and spans from the Santa Rita Mountains to the west, was founded by Burton Beck in 1968 and his wife Bettie Ann took over after his passing in 1977. Bettie Ann continued her husband’s dream of staying put on the ranch and ran it as a cow-calf operation and furthered his quarter-horse operation.
After Bettie Ann’s passing, her daughter Cynthia Tomlinson, along with her son Ian Tomlinson, took the reins of the entire Vera Earl Ranch, keeping it in operation.
Plus, even though they’re not involved in the day-to-day operations, Ian’s siblings, Sean Tomlinson, Sarah Tomlinson, and Rachel Preston, all remain connected to the ranch and its mission.
Since the late ’60s, it’s been all about sustaining the family-owned and operated ranch. Plus, the family tradition continues to grow to such an extent that they have nearly 3,000 cows on about 200,000 acres of land.
“In 2012, we entered into a partnership with the Sands family on the Sands Ranch, which is another old, historic ranch,” said Ian Tomlinson. “In 2015, we then acquired another lease on a ranch that is in Cochise County.”
The family strives to raise “efficient, high-marbling cattle that not only thrive but provide the best-tasting beef.” Out on the ranch, Black Baldies roam the land, which are the product of Hereford cows and Black Angus bulls. These heifers then move to the Empire Ranch where they are bred to either Charolais or Black Angus bulls.
One of the things I found really interesting while chatting with Ian is the process of creating “high-marbling cattle.” The cows are grass-raised but that’s only the beginning of their diet.
“Ever since the beginning, we’ve always wanted to highlight the things that make us different for a certain clientele,” said Ian. “So, the cattle will stay out and graze on grass until they weigh between 600 to 900 pounds. Then, they are brought into our ‘grow yard’ and started on a corn ration for 180 to 220 days. All of our corn is locally sourced from Marana and Wilcox. You feed them a richer corn diet because that’s what creates the marbling in the meat.”
Vera Earl Ranch is also proud of our third-party certifications for All-Natural Cattle (VNB), Non-hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC), Age and Source verified, and CARE, which is done by IMI Global or Where Food Comes From.
“There are no hormones, no antibiotics, and no animal byproducts,” said Ian. “We are third-party verified for that particular stuff. We’re part of what they call CARE which is an environmental stewardship. So, it’s not just us saying we do all of these things because we’re actually certified by someone who comes out every year, goes through our books, goes over different things we do to make sure that we’re adhering to all of those principles.”
Community is key with Vera Earl Ranch, too. Throughout the years, the family has been involved in helping the younger folks by sponsoring youth soccer and baseball or helping out with 4-H and FFA programs. The Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center, the Santa Cruz County Fair, and the Mountain Empire Rotary Club are just a few that they keep in touch with.
As a matter of fact, since 2015, Ian has been a founding Board Member of The Los Charros Foundation. The group gives back to youth in rural communities in Southern Arizona, and the Foundation awards between $50,000 to $100,000 in scholarships every year to students in nearby counties.
And, giving back to the local community goes hand in hand with taking care of the environment, too.
“We certainly have a really strong belief in sustainably for the entire ecosystem, rather than just cattle or what have you,” Ian explained. “We do a pretty good job of that. I mean, we ranch about 15 endangered species and we’ve done a lot of work trying to conserve water on the ranch over the years. We also do a lot with our grazing management — how we rotate the cattle is all based on monitoring and science. I don’t know if that necessarily makes us different than too many other ranches but it’s certainly something that we’re proud of.”
At the moment, Wild Garlic Grill at 2870 E. Skyline Dr. #120 is the only restaurant using Vera Earl’s marbled beef, but the family is currently working with a distributor to make their product more widespread.
Then, if you’re in the market for cookin’ up a solid piece of steak in the comfort of your own kitchen, the ranch has an online store. They enjoy chatting with people over the phone, too, as well as answering email requests, but perhaps one of their favorite aspects of the job is educating the buyer.
“You know, one of the best parts is when people come in,” said Ian. “We can take them back and show them all of the different cuts. We meet them there and they get to pick out what they want to eat — what steak they want. They usually have the opportunity to pick out their meat from, you know, 20 to 30 cuts.”
At the end of the day, the family is honestly proud of the work they do and the products they provide to the expanded community.
“It certainly sounds cliche, but we pride ourselves on providing the highest quality beef while also maintaining our standards, stewardship, and sustainability,” Ian gleamed. “We have two lines of cuts — the Black Label which is a ‘high choice and prime.’ Then, we have a Red Label which is more of a medium choice when we cut the steaks. But it’s the same taste but with a different marbling. Every piece is super tender. It’s just a different experience.”
For more information about Vera Earl Ranch, visit veraearlranch.com, call (520) 455-9317, or send over an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vera Earl Ranch is a Tucson Foodie Restaurant Partner.
Tucson Foodie is a locally owned and operated community. Thanks to our partners and members, we are able to offer paywall-free guides and articles. We value your support and invite you to become a Tucson Foodie Insider today.
At a very young age, Matt Sterner was gifted with the artistic ability to masterfully roll a burrito to the highest of standards, but the wrapped medley of delicious innards wasn’t his first love. Matt’s first true love was a...