Niman Ranch: Looking to the Past to Create a Better Future

Good food begins at the farm. Today, food enthusiasts and chefs alike are enjoying the taste of juicy steaks, flavorful pork chops and sweet, succulent lamb, all of which comes from animals raised in America on sustainable family farms using humane practices.

Niman Ranch and its network of U.S. small family farms are leaders in both advocating and producing the meats of yesteryear. The company, the leading purveyor of all-natural meats, began 35 years ago with only a few calves on a small ranch in California. Today, the company boasts having more than 600 sustainable farmers and ranchers in its network. Their meats are branded on the menus of many fine restaurants, found at quality grocers, and are the preferred meats of consumers with discriminating tastes.

Raised for Better Taste
Since the 1950s, a significant number of farms and ranches have disappeared in America. In 1950, America had 3 million hog farms. Today, there are less than 80,000, with over 80% of those raising more than 5,000 hogs a year. In the case of livestock, most of the increase in production comes from confinement feeding operations housing thousands of hogs who stand on slatted concrete floors eating a diet supplemented with sub therapeutic antibiotics.

"In conventional farming, hogs, for example, have been bred to be leaner than the hogs in the 1950s. Less fat, means less flavor," explains Paul Willis, hog farmer and founder of the Niman Ranch Pork Company."Most of today’s sows are raised in cages in which they can’t even move or turn around. These systems also produce an inordinate amount of waste in lagoons and have a tremendous environmental impact. Not only is this an inhumane way of raising animals, but also it causes a lot of stress on the animals. The stress results in the meat being less palatable."

"Today, because of industrial farming, the traditional flavor of meat has been lost," says Willis."Niman Ranch pork looks and tastes very different from ’the other white meat’."

Whether its hogs, cattle or sheep, Niman Ranch uses select breeds and raises the animals like farmers did years ago – by allowing them to graze and roam freely on pasture and feeding them all natural, high quality grains.

Supporting U.S. Family Farmers and Ranchers
All of Niman Ranch’s beef, pork and lamb come from small U.S. family farmers and ranchers who must meet strict protocols regarding breeds, feeds, and animal husbandry. Niman Ranch never uses antibiotics or added growth hormones on their animals and their pork program is the only one endorsed by the Animal Welfare Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting humane farming practices and the welfare of all animals.

"We feel it is important to inform consumers about what sustainable farming and "natural" really means," said Jeff Tripician, Executive Vice President at Niman Ranch."At Niman Ranch, we go far beyond the USDA’s requirements of natural. We believe that supporting traditional methods of farming produces the best, most flavorful meats."

A "Porklicious" Thank You Dinner
This commitment to supporting U.S. Family Farmers is no more evident than at Niman Ranch’s annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner where top chefs from around the country visit Des Moines, Iowa to cook for hog farmers. It’s their way of showing thanks for the farmer’s commitment to sustainable farming. Chefs also tour the Willis hog farm. In addition to the 300-person dinner, awards are given out to farmers who produce the highest quality pork, and several scholarships are given to students pursuing careers in sustainable agriculture.

"Each of us had farmers come up to us individually and thank us not only for the dinner, but for supporting their families," said Trey Foshee, Executive Chef for George’s at the Cove in La Jolla, California and one of the presenting chefs at the 2007 Farmer Appreciation Dinner."One woman came up to me with her young daughter, looked me straight in the eye and very honestly and emotionally told me that if it was not for me and my support of the Niman Ranch program her family would have lost their farm."

"We get so busy in our lives, especially if we don’t live in a rural environment that it’s easy to lose track of where our food comes from, the people who raise it, and the importance of our choices as consumers," says Foshee."With Niman Ranch, it’s about sharing the support of small U.S. farms, of using products without added hormones and antibiotics, and guess what, they taste better, too!"