Ranching family develops hungry nearby market
Small outfit sells through local co-op, farmers' market
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Located in southwestern Idaho, Weiser River Signature Beef supplies customers in the Treasure Valley and Weiser River Valley with local beef. Owners Victor and Christy Ward pride themselves on an operation that brings beef from "pasture to platter" within 100 miles.
The beef is age and source verifiable, and the cattle have never been treated with hormones or antibiotics. The cattle are pastured, then finished with grain and hay at Kerner Cattle Co. in Weiser.
"People truly want to know where their food comes from and, in the case of beef, what it has been fed and treated, or not treated, with," said Victor Ward.
The Wards have found a firm market for their product, but the majority of their effort is in educating consumers.
"We talk with many retail customers that quit eating beef because they didn't like the taste of it or didn't like the concept of mega-feeding operations," Ward said. "They have tried our beef and have become repeat customers."
The company started in 2008, selling at farmers' markets. Later they began selling one animal a week to the Boise Co-op, which purchases the primal cuts. The trim is converted to bulk hamburger and hamburger patties and sold to local restaurants.
Today, the company processes two animals a week for local restaurants and more for wholesale vendors who supply other local restaurants and institutions. In total, the company supplies about 100 cattle a year to local markets.
The idea originated because Ward, past president of Weiser River Cattle Association, saw his neighbor ranchers unable to make a profit, going out of business and selling real estate for development. He wanted to help them stay in business, even if on a small scale.
"It is working that way," he said.
He raises about half the animals, a dozen other ranchers in the area raise the rest, and everyone shares in the profits of a premium product. They raise a mix of Angus, Hereford and Simmental crosses.
The Wards also raise sheep. But lamb is not yet part of their program.
In addition to the Boise Co-op, Weiser Signature Beef is also part of Idaho's Bounty and the Idaho Preferred program, which promote Idaho food products and buying local.
The company recently received a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant to expand brand recognition for their beef.
"Our goal is consistent branding that customers, both wholesale and retail, will recognize on sight and associate with our quality product," Ward said.
The Wards are developing a brochure to explain what their product is, how it is grown and produced, and what the value is to the customer.
They are also developing and refining point-of-sale material, including business cards, recipe cards, and vendor display items and are developing a website.
Information about the company can be found on the Idaho's Bounty website: www.idahosbounty.org