Skip to main content

Living the Free-range Dream: Southwest Florida Couple Runs One-of-a-Kind Circle C Ranch

Jun 26, 2017 03:54PM, Published by Kevin, Categories: Bonita & Estero


Photo courtesy of Circle C Ranch.


Gallery: Living the Free-range Dream: Circle C Ranch - July/August 2017 [5 Images] Click any image to expand.



(From left) Circle C co-owner Nicole Kozak, Naples Yacht Club chef John O'Leary and Circle C co-owner Manny Cruz. Kozak and Cruz are expanding the organic farm that today serves some two dozen Florida restaurants, clubs and chefs. O'Leary is choosy about what menu ingredients he selects, purchasing from the Circle C farm in Bonita. Photo courtesy of Circle C Ranch.

What started out as a place called Happy Hens to buy fresh-laid eggs in Bonita Springs has evolved into a one-of-a-kind ranch providing chefs and diners in South Florida with sustainably raised, high-quality meat free of hormones, antibiotics or genetically-modified feed.

In 2010, Nicole Kozak and Manny Cruz bought 5 acres on Strike Lane, and began raising laying hens. Happy Hens is home to 1,500 free-range hens and recently expanded to provide more pasture space. Here, shoppers can also find fresh geese, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, honey and microgreens.

The meat, poultry and honey come from Kozak’s and Cruz’s other operation: the 130-acre Circle C Farm in Felda in Hendry County. Kozak and Cruz have wasted no time in growing their sustainable ranch. In 2015, they became USDA-certified to process up to 40,000 broiler poultry birds onsite each year. 

By this spring, their 6,000-square-foot facility had become a USDA-inspected site, the first of its kind in Florida. This means they can package, distribute and sell their red and white meats beyond the direct consumer, and others can bring their animals to the ranch for processing.

Love of Animals Brought Them Together

Photo courtesy of Circle C Ranch.

Kozak is a long-time Southwest Florida resident originally from horse country in Virginia. Cruz is from the Dominican Republic, where his family raised hogs and cattle and operated a dairy creamery. They met in Bonita Springs in 2004, and shared a love of animals.

They began nurturing rescued horses “but that snowballed so we needed more space, and with more space, we needed more animals,” she says. A couple of cows grew into their Felda livestock today: 100 or more sheep; 65 head of red and black Angus; more than 3,000 meat or broiler chickens; and hogs.

Consumers have become more aware about how their poultry, eggs, dairy and meat are raised and processed in industrialized, corporate operations, thanks in part to documentaries such as “Food, Inc.” and “Cow-spiracy: The Sustainability Secret.”  Growth hormones and antibiotics are pumped into animals housed by the thousands in commercial warehouses, where they are unable to move freely and slaughtered as soon as possible.

Just the opposite happens at Circle C Farm, where animals have free range and are given natural supplements. Their heritage hogs are a variety of pure breeds that have longer “grow-out” periods than hybridized, commercial pork. They roam and forage until they are 10 to 12 months old, instead of three or four months. “That allows for the natural meat development and flavoring to enhance over that time,” she explains. “Our animals may take a little longer to grow out, but it’s better for them and for us.”

Photo courtesy of Circle C Ranch.

Circle C’s sheep are special, too. Cruz and Kozak were told they were “crazy” to try to raise them due to heat and parasites. They experimented and bred their own disease-resistant stock—now the fifth generation. The ewes are de-wormed before lambing season, “so they are as strong as possible,” she notes. Otherwise, “that’s all they get—no antibiotics, no vaccinations.”

Chickens are moved around in mobile coops to pasturelands, where they feed while simultaneously fertilizing the grass. In their drinking water, they receive essential oils, vitamins, cinnamon, oregano and lemon, for detoxification and immune-system building. “We know that it’s a positive benefit for them with no negative chemical side effects,” says Kozak. 

The end of the road, of course, is the slaughterhouse. Circle C calls its facility the French term— abattoir. The animals don’t have to be transported, causing stress and adrenaline shock that courses through their body and alters the meat’s flavor. 

High Demand Leads to Expansion

Photo courtesy of Circle C Ranch.

Circle C has expanded to meet growing demand. Kozak says many Happy Hens shoppers are selective about ingredients because of existing health conditions, while some feed the organic meats to their pets. At least 16 local restaurants, clubs and chefs utilize Circle C products, not including several on the East Coast, as well as Paleo on the Go in Tampa.

Says Chef Harold Balink, of Harold’s in south Fort Myers, “We try to get as much locally sourced products as possible. They are a stone’s throw down the road, and people say it’s delicious.”

Naples Yacht Club Chef John O’Leary began with fresh eggs for omelets, Hollandaise and crème brûlée. “It’s such a noticeable difference—the natural fats you get from the yolks,” he says. One time, when Happy Hens sold out, club members clamored for some out of his inventory, recalls O’Leary, who also uses Circle C’s turkey, chicken and beef. “Their commitment to the overall health and quality and life of the animals on the farm, it cascades into the club. All that passion they pour into raising the livestock heightens the final product. So often a lot of farms want to tell you a great story. Nicole and Manny live it every single day.”


wellness


  • FineMark Exhibtion of FGCU Art Alumni

    09/22/2017
    09:00AM — 04:00PM

    From July 10 - September 29, 2017, Finemark National Bank and Trust will be displaying the work o...


  • Open Painting at The Paint Escape

    09/22/2017
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    Ceramic painting for children and adults, create a decorative item. Friday night offers ladie...


  • Mangrove Maze Eco-Tour

    09/22/2017
    10:00AM

    Guided exploration of the mangrove wilderness on part of the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail....


  • Mirror, Mirror... Exhibition

    09/22/2017
    10:00AM — 05:00PM

    Mirror, Mirror… September 1 - 28, 2017 Opening Reception: Friday, September 1, 2017, 6pm-8pm C...


  • Sunset Kayak Eco-Tour

    09/22/2017
    03:30PM

    Paddle Matlacha Pass meandering through mangrove shrouded trails. Guides are ACA Certified Kayak ...


  • Step Up to Art

    09/22/2017
    04:00PM — 05:30PM

    Come join fine artist Kathy Dunn in this new and exciting art series for your growing artists! Ch...


  • Sunset Celebration at Times Square

    09/22/2017
    05:00PM — 10:00PM

    Live Music, Food and Fun at Time Square on Fort Myers Beach


  • Craving Fashion 2017

    09/22/2017
    05:30PM — 08:00PM

    Join us on September 22nd from 5:30pm-8:00pm for our 5th annual Craving Fashion. This food and fa...


  • Ladies' Night at The Paint Escape

    09/22/2017
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Ceramic painting for children and adults, create a decorative item. Friday night offers ladie...


  • Caloosahatchee Sunset Cruise

    09/22/2017
    07:00PM

    Relaxing environment as the sun is setting, the shoreline and river elements taking on a differen...


  • Into the Woods

    09/22/2017
    09:00PM

    James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim take everyone’s favorite storybook characters and bring them to...


  • FineMark Exhibtion of FGCU Art Alumni

    09/25/2017
    09:00AM — 04:00PM

    From July 10 - September 29, 2017, Finemark National Bank and Trust will be displaying the work o...


  • Sanibel Shell Crafters

    09/25/2017
    10:00AM — 03:00PM

    Visit The Sanibel Shell Crafters every Monday all year long from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. to watch this d...


  • Mangrove Maze Eco-Tour

    09/25/2017
    10:00AM

    Guided exploration of the mangrove wilderness on part of the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail....


  • Mirror, Mirror... Exhibition

    09/25/2017
    10:00AM — 05:00PM

    Mirror, Mirror… September 1 - 28, 2017 Opening Reception: Friday, September 1, 2017, 6pm-8pm C...


  • Sunset Kayak Eco-Tour

    09/25/2017
    03:30PM

    Paddle Matlacha Pass meandering through mangrove shrouded trails. Guides are ACA Certified Kayak ...


  • Complete original art while enjoying friends, music and favorite beverages. Materials provided, o...


  • Ballroom Dancing

    09/25/2017
    06:30PM — 09:30PM

    USA Dance offers beginning Ballroom Dance Lessons and a Social Dance on Monday nights. The lesson...


  • Caloosahatchee Sunset Cruise

    09/25/2017
    07:00PM

    Relaxing environment as the sun is setting, the shoreline and river elements taking on a differen...


  • Ballroom Dancing

    09/25/2017
    06:30PM — 09:30PM

    USA Dance offers beginning Ballroom Dance Lessons and a Social Dance on Monday nights. The lesson...


  • Ballroom Dancing

    10/02/2017
    06:30PM — 09:30PM

    USA Dance offers beginning Ballroom Dance Lessons and a Social Dance on Monday nights. The lesson...


  • Ballroom Dancing

    10/09/2017
    06:30PM — 09:30PM

    USA Dance offers beginning Ballroom Dance Lessons and a Social Dance on Monday nights. The lesson...