Late last week the public radio program Marketplace ran this story, which focuses on Niman Ranch and its founder, Bill Niman. Niman Ranch was one of the early producers of high-end, sustainably, humanely raised meats. The business has grown into a network of some 700 family farms and, with new leadership and new investors, hopes to turn sustainable agriculture into a sustainable business. The report considers the tension between maintaining such a company’s economic viability while also meeting its ecological and ethical goals.
Niman himself, though, has decided he wants to keep it smaller with more direct control over all aspects of production. A few years ago he left the company and has since started a new one. As described in the Marketplace story, “He left Niman Ranch because he couldn’t sign off on certain practices, like outsourcing butchering and animal transport. He admits that doing everything in-house was something dear to him that didn’t necessarily add value for most consumers. [Niman:] ‘If the consumer in the marketplace is not going to reward you with a premium for this more expensive or controlled production model, then you better be like the other guys.'”
Check out the story link above for the full audio and transcript, along with some cool photos. And for a related, more detailed look at the business history of Niman Ranch, head to this story from Inc. magazine. It’s a longer read, but as such it explores the issues raised by the Marketplace story in much greater depth. Definitely worth a look.