Six Questions with Paul Willis, Founder of Niman Ranch Pork Company
Food Tank, in partnership with American University, is hosting the 2nd Annual Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. on April 20–21, 2016.
This two-day event will feature more than 75 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for panels on topics including food waste, urban agriculture, family farmers, farm workers, and more.
Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Paul Willis, the Founder of Niman Ranch. Niman Ranch is one of the sponsors of the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What initiatives have you launched recently, or are planning to launch, that will further your company’s sustainability efforts?
Paul Willis (PW): The Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Fund helps further the education of our independent family farmers’ children. Any college student from a Niman Ranch family can apply. We created this fund to ensure the future of sustainable, humane farming. We also have many incentives in place for beginning and new Niman Farmers that create opportunities for the next generation to continue high animal welfare livestock production.
FT: What drives you and your company to push for sustainability?
PW: Sustainability is better for everyone involved—the farmers, animals, environment, and the customer. We founded Niman Ranch on the principle that sustainably raised meat can support family farmers while preserving the land for future generations.
FT: What is the biggest food related issue facing our planet right now? How is your company working to solve that problem?
PW: Food waste and food quality. We provide an alternative to commodity livestock that is both high in quality and better for the land and animals. Feed the world better, not more.
FT: What changes would you like to see from the U.S. government to support sustainability in the food system?
PW: I think we should divert funding in the Farm Bill towards small- to mid-sized farmers. For example, Federal Crop Insurance is subsidized and has no farm size limits. Instead, more funding could help beginning farmers purchase land at an affordable cost or go towards incentivizing established farmers who use sustainable models.
FT: What was a turning point in your company and why?
PW: The biggest turning point for our business was the decision to go national. Back then, everything sustainable and traditional went towards upscale, niche restaurants in a few cities. It was a big deal to become a national brand. We now have built a program with the largest livestock farmer network that brings high-quality meats to chefs and customers from coast to coast. We wouldn’t be able to support so many farmers or give more people access to high-quality products if we never took that leap.
FT: What three things do you want your customers to know about your company?
PW: Niman Ranch is a network of over 700 independent family farmers and ranchers who are paid a fair price to raise their livestock humanely and sustainably. We work hard to create the best product possible while preserving the land for future generations. [We bring you the finest] tasting pork, beef, lamb, and prepared products on the market today.
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Sponsors for this year's Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. include: Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Chaia DC, Chipotle, Clif Bar, D.C. Government, Driscoll's, Edible DC, Elevation Burger, Fair Trade USA, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Global Environmental Politics Program of the School of International Service, Greener Media, Inter Press Service, Leafware, Niman Ranch, Organic Valley, Panera Bread, and VegFund.
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