At our annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, we present the Honorary Farmer of the Year award. This recognition is given to a Niman Ranch customer – whether it be a meat distributor, grocer or restaurant – that shows outstanding commitment to the Niman Ranch farming community. They go above and beyond being a customer to embody the true meaning of partnership in their actions towards promoting sustainable, humane agriculture.
This year, we honored a long-time friend of ours, Marczyk Fine Foods in Denver, Colorado. Owners Pete, Barbara and Paul Marczyk have increased their commitment to our Next Generation Scholarship Fund through private dinners at their home, having customers “round up” at the register, selling special items at their deli, and our favorite event of the year: Marczyk’s Burger Night. The Fund is set up to give our farmers’ children a better chance of returning to the land by curbing school loan debt. This ultimately preserves traditional farming practices and promotes the advancement of the next generation of farmers.
The tradition of the Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner is alive and well! We recently celebrated our 18th annual event at the Embassy Suites Downtown in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, August 27.
Each year we painstakingly select a group of highly acclaimed chefs who meet our strict criteria. They are award –winning chefs in their regions and they have shown a real commitment to supporting Niman Ranch and our family of farmers and ranchers not only through purchasing Niman Ranch meats but by raising awareness about how our network of family farmers raise the livestock. Most often the initial reason many chefs choose Niman Ranch is because of the outstanding meat quality, but once they realize the connection with flavor and how the animals are raised, they become advocates for our entire program.
It all started eight years ago at the 9th annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner. The first Next Generation Scholarship was given to a few children of our farmers with the intent of helping them pay for college so they could return to the farm. In its first year, the scholarship totaled $6,000.
On September 26th, we hosted our most recent Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner. It was a moving experience – a chance for me to see just how close our community of our farmers, chefs, customers and employees have become. We also have a whole host of people here in Iowa that continue to volunteer and support us year after year.
It was announced today that Niman Ranch’s parent company, Natural Food Holdings, is being sold to Perdue. This will not change the way we raise our animals, the quality of our products or our dedication to family farmers, ranchers and their local communities. It will allow us to grow our sustainable business and help our brand prosper into the future.
As many of you know, Niman Ranch began in the early 1970’s on an 11-acre ranch in a small coastal town north of San Francisco. The idea was to provide the community with the highest quality meat by practicing traditional, humane and sustainable animal husbandry. Fast forward 45 years later: Niman Ranch has grown to include a network of more than 700 independent family farmers and ranchers, spread across the country.
The growth of Niman Ranch is a direct result of your conscious eating. Like you, more and more people want to know where their meat comes from and how the animals are treated. By merging with Perdue, we’ll be better able to provide greater access to sustainable meat by growing the number of family farmers in our network and expanding our products into more cities to reach more consumers.
Perdue is an ideal partner to support Niman Ranch in this venture. Perdue is a US, family-owned company. In recent years, Perdue has become the leading producer of organic chicken, the leading producer of no-antibiotics-ever chicken and they also have no-antibiotics-ever turkey and pork. Niman Ranch matches Perdue’s leading position as a trusted supplier of premium, branded proteins and aligns with Perdue’s belief in responsible food and agriculture. Together, Niman Ranch and Perdue will continue to raise the bar for raising and processing meat.
All the independent family farmers who raise livestock for Niman Ranch practice sustainable farming methods, humane animal husbandry and work within their communities to promote the family farming model. There are some, however, that stand out above the rest. In order to honor their achievements, we honor one farmer every year with the Farmer of the Year award, which is presented at the Farmer Appreciation Dinner in Iowa.
The 2014 winner came as no surprise. Paul Brown of Alderland farm has opened his home on several occasions to share his knowledge of sustainable farming and Niman Ranch. He and his family have hosted many tours over the years, from Niman Ranch groups to college groups, and even local school children. In fact, Paul is known simply as “Farmer Brown” to many local kids in his community.
Our annual Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner was held on September 13, 2014 at the Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines. It was a spectacular celebration. Every year it seems to take on a personality of its own. This truly was the year of the Niman Ranch Hog Farmer. Enthusiasm for the dinner led to a record breaking number of RSVPs. After all these years, it amazes me to see how much this event has developed, not just in size, but in helping people understand how important it is to recognize our farmers for their good stewardship of the land and humane treatment of their livestock.
The outpouring of support from the food community was enormous, starting the moment we asked our selected featured chefs if they would be willing to come to Iowa and cook for our farmers. They agreed without hesitation, and many of them even paid for their sous chefs to come along. Chef Jason Cline of St. Petersburg, FL, went even further and held a fund-raiser for the Next Generation Scholarship at his restaurant, The Birchwood.