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Q&A with Danielle Nicholas, Enviropreneur Institute Alumni 2013

Meet Danielle Nicholas, Enviropreneur Institute alumni 2013. She is the owner and founder of Crazy Mountain Grass Fed Beef, LLC in Bozeman, Montana. She came to PERC with the aim to market grass fed beef as the sum of all its parts with the concept: “terroir of beef.” In the video above and Q&A below, she introduces herself and her product and proposes to producers and consumers alike that variability is no longer a liability, it is an asset.

Q: Could you explain your “terroir of beef” project?

A: I am very interested in the concept that beef, like wine, picks up flavors from the soil and forage that it grazes on. From Wikipedia for simplicity’s sake: “Terroir ([a French word] from terre, “land”) is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place . . . express in agricultural products.” Tying beef back to the environment in which it was grown is a great way to connect consumers to not only our grasslands, but the diversity of small scale producers out there. An ecosystem is more resilient the more biodiverse it is. Our world’s food supply, in this case beef production, is no different.

Q: What are the differences between conventional, natural, organic, and grass fed beef?

A: Conventional usually refers to animals that are finished in a feedlot environment. Given the close quarters of such facilities, the animals are given regular doses of antibiotics to curb the spread of disease. In a conventional system, the emphasis is put on animal weight gain. Natural simply means that nothing has been added to the meat itself. It is a loose term that does not provide a lot of information. Organic animals must not be given any hormones or antibiotics and must eat only organic feed. Vaccinations are allowed. Grassfed means that the animal has eaten grass during its lifetime. Most people assume that it means the animal has been finished on grass as well, but this is not always the case. We advertise our meat as hormone and antibiotic-free, grassfed and finished. I think this gives the consumer an accurate idea of what they are getting.

Q: What is the greatest challenge in managing for 100% grass fed beef?

A: From a production standpoint, the greatest challenge in managing for 100% grassfed beef is the variability in pasture quality from year to year. From a business standpoint, the fact that Americans are used to paying for beef which is below the cost of production due to corn subsidies is a very large challenge. Consumer education is key to overcoming both challenges or shall I say therein lies the opportunity.  

Q: What did you take away from PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute that will help you with developing your project?

A: The PEI was helpful on many levels. The interactions with senior fellows, researchers, and peers provided an invaluable opportunity to workshop ideas, troubleshoot potential problems, and gain a variety of lenses through which to view a single issue. It was a crash course in business planning as well as the role of property rights in environmental issues. One becomes so immersed in what one is doing that often a set of outside eyes and ears is extremely helpful. The PEI was extremely well run and fellows were exceptionally provided for. This enabled myself and others to focus fully on developing our projects. Thank you to PERC for such an incredible opportunity!

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