Cherokee Valley Bison Ranch: Where the “Buffalo” Roam Southeast of Columbus
Just 45 minutes away from Downtown Columbus, a herd of bison roam 50 acres in Thornville, Ohio at Cherokee Valley Bison Ranch.
Carie Starr dreamed up Cherokee Valley Bison Ranch one night after an incredible meal in Columbus.
“I had bison at Ted’s Montana Grill for the first time and thought, ‘This is so delicious I want to eat this all the time,’” Starr says. “It was love at first bite.”
Previously working as a lab safety coordinator, not everyone would decide to become a farmer after a delicious meal in one of Columbus’ many restaurants, but Starr was uniquely situated to make her dream a reality.
“I was a single mom living in the middle of a hay field,” she says. “I was scheming to get goats and chickens…then I tried bison for the first time and boom. It was a lightbulb moment. I could raise bison – I live in the middle of a hay field.”
Starr landed in that hay field after divorcing and moving her young daughter back home to her family’s land in Thornville. Starr explained, “I put my house right smack in the middle of my mom’s 25 acres. At that time, I was just happy to have a safe place surrounded by family and far from the road to raise my daughter.”
Starr always dreamed of being her own boss and invested her time into learning all she could about bison and ranching – even though she had no idea how she would make her dream a reality.
“I always had a dream of being my own boss but, before I met bison, I really had no idea what that would look like,” she says.
The hard part of finding land was already done.
“I am so lucky to be farming the land that my Grandparents passed down,” she says. “My grandma had the ultimate plan for her children to never leave. So, when she bought this farm, which was 160 acres originally, she knew she could equitably divide it so that each of her five children would get a chunk. She gave the land to them in the early ’90s so she could watch everyone enjoy her gift while being surrounded by family.”
Cherokee Valley Bison Ranch resides both on Starr’s mother’s 25 acres, and she leases her aunt’s 25 acres as well.
Her grandma’s legacy was the literal groundwork for Starr’s dream to roam. So it is fitting that she chose to name her ranch in honor of her grandmother.
“Because my grandmother was the one who gifted us the farm, we wanted to honor her in the naming of our ranch,” she says. “My grandmother was Cherokee and very active in the Native community. And our farm sits in a nice little valley—growing up my mom always called my grandparents farm ‘the valley.’ We married the Cherokee and valley with bison ranch and Cherokee Valley Bison Ranch was born. My grandmother LOVED that we are raising bison on her farm.”
Even though Starr had the land, she still had a few hurdles to overcome to move from lab safety coordinator to bison rancher.
“Everything about bison is super expensive from the animals themselves to the tall fences and heavy duty handling equipment to raise these wild beasts,” Starr explains. “I never thought it would happen and then I met Jarrod [Starr’s husband], and together we made the dream come true. In 2008, we bought a herd of bison and have been loving it ever since.”
Now Starr’s dream of eating bison everyday is a reality. She has grown her herd to try and meet the demand of her customers, whether that demand is for a bison burger or to learn more about the United States’ National Mammal. Their interest in and passion for bison has been a boon to Cherokee Valley Bison Ranch.
“I so enjoy meeting all the people who share my love of bison whether they are visiting the ranch to buy meat, attend a workshop, or the Girl Scout groups who come to earn a badge. I am so lucky,” Starr says.
She knows Columbus is a special market to be in. People want to try bison for a variety of reasons – whether they are a foodie, trying to eat healthy, or simply like the taste of a bison hot dog. While Starr loves supplying her local town of Thornville with pastured meat, Columbus’ large population (and support of local farmers) has allowed Starr to more than double her herd size since the ranch brought their first bison home.
Cherokee Valley Bison Ranch’s products are available to purchase at the ranch on weekends and locally at City Folk’s Farm Shop in Clintonville. Yellowbird Foodshed also offers a local delivery and pickup option.
“Our most popular products are the ground items, such as patties and our flavored sausages like hot Italian, sweet Italian, brats, and chorizo. And the hot dogs are a huge hit,” Starr says. “The steaks sell out the fastest, though. We make ribeye, NY Strip, and tenderloin, which melts in your mouth.”
Starr is living her dream when she indulges in her favorite way to enjoy bison – a ribeye paired with a big salad and a sweet potato and maybe some red wine.
Cherokee Valley Bison Ranch also recently opened their first Hipcamp sites, giving visitors the opportunity to roam the ranch while staying in an authentic, 22’ Sioux-style tipi.
“We hope guests will come out and enjoy spending time at a working bison ranch,” Starr says. “We have lots of trails to explore on our farm, and we are very close to lots of recreational areas as well. We hope folks will escape the city and enjoy a slice of our paradise. In fact, you can purchase Hipcamp gift cards if folks are looking for experience gifts!”
Those that visit Cherokee Valley Bison Ranch soon may even be able to meet Peaches, a bottle-fed bison baby.
“People have especially enjoyed visiting the farm this year because of our little bottle baby, Peaches,” Starr says. “People have been so thrilled to get to interact with a bison on such a personal level, not gonna lie, me too! She’s been a gift!”
Starr feels lucky everyday to be living her dream.
“Becoming a bison rancher has been the most awesome thing. I feel like they gave me my voice. I have grown and blossomed in ways I never thought I would,” she says, adding she’s also thankful to have Jarrod, her husband, by her side. “Having Jarrod as my partner was a huge part of that as well, I wouldn’t have had the courage to go bison without him.”
“Just sharing space with these magnificent animals has been so amazing. Looking out my back window and catching them playing and romping through the pasture is a sight I never tire of,” Starr says. “They are the epitome of resiliency—all that they have been through from nearly being exterminated to 600,000 plus and growing!”
For more information, visit cherokeevalleybisonranch.com.
All photos courtesy Cherokee Valley Bison Ranch