As we round the corner into March, schools across the state that are participating in the Montana Harvest of the Month Program are looking to Montana ranchers and processors for local beef.  March is Beef month, a fabulous time to highlight the beef producers that live all around this state.  One such producer is Yellowstone Grassfed Beef, and they’re doing a wonderful job of using Beef Month to get healthy, locally grown beef into Montana schools through the Harvest of the Month Program.

Yellowstone Grassfed Beef started about 7 years ago as the brainchild of two ranches that both came to the same conclusion: their cows are too good to be shipped to a feedlot. Twodot Land & Livestock and the J Bar L Ranches had both been using holistic livestock practices for years, and united under the belief that genuinely better grassfed beef comes from happy cows and resilient landscapes.  Yellowstone Grassfed Beef stands behind an unwavering commitment to what’s in the best interest of its animals, its customers, and the greater community.

Speaking with Erika Hartmann, their director of sales, we learned about the values and relationships that Yellowstone Grassfed has built in their time in the industry.  “I try to bring home our triple bottom line of ecology, economy, and community. Giving an opportunity for people to try not only a local beef, but a grassfed local beef,” said Hartmann.

Yellowstone Grassfed Beef processes all of their beef at Stillwater Processing in Columbus, a USDA inspected facility, and much of their product is shipped through Summit Distribution. This enables them to sell across state lines into places like Yellowstone National Park, in addition to their own online marketplace.  The company sells an abundance of beef within Montana, their first priority, but has had to market much of their higher end product elsewhere in order to remain economically viable.  Hartmann stated that one of their main goals is to continue to sell the majority of their Montana grown beef within the state. In order to be able to offer affordable rates to Montana schools and other institutions, they have increased the geographic area that they serve.

When it comes to sales to Montana institutions, their first big account was the University of Montana.  Next came Livingston Healthcare, and in the past six months they have added almost 10 schools to their growing list of relationships with institutional buyers.   During the month of March, Yellowstone Grassfed Beef representatives like Erika Hartmann will be making trips into schools and classrooms to talk about raising beef from ranch to fork in Montana. Contact with real producers bring the food system full circle, and Erika is excited to help serve delicious Montana beef to Montana kids on the lunch line, and in taste tests, wherever she can.

Hartmann also pointed out two significant barriers to sales to institutions: price and communication. “What makes it happen is when people come to YGB and say hey, we really want to work with your product, and we value the work that you are doing, and they want to sit down and negotiate and find the balance in price.”  Hartmann gives a lot of credit to the champions within the schools and institutions with which they have worked for opening up the conversation with the producer.  In Livingston, local foods champions are even starting the conversation around cooperative purchasing between the hospital and the school, so that each can enjoy local beef from Yellowstone Grassfed at a lower cost.  Many institutional food service staff have become accustomed to set prices, packaging, quantities, and deliveries, and Yellowstone Grassfed is trying to reopen the conversation with these folks to figure out how they can work together for mutually beneficial relationships. They want to serve more Montana schools, but Hartmann notes that it needs to become a dialogue first, overcoming the barrier of communication. “If you’re interested in using our beef, let’s talk, We’re ready, and we’re ready to meet you half way.”

To the folks that run Yellowstone Grassfed Beef, regenerative agriculture is the name of the game. They value relationships not only with their buyers, but with their animals and the land that they steward. With low stress livestock management and wildlife friendly practices, it’s clear that Yellowstone Grassfed Beef strives to be both environmentally and socially conscious.  However, when they ask their consumers what they like best about Yellowstone Grassfed Beef, the answer is an overwhelming, “Because it’s local, and it tastes good.”