Buffalo Farmer Finds City Fans

November 9, 2010 at 3:17 am Leave a comment

©Photo by Margarida Correia. Ron Kipps, owner of Elk Trails Ranch in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County, sells grass-fed bison and beef at the Union Square Greenmarket. He raises his livestock without antibiotics, hormones, steroids or feed supplements. “The only reason I’m here,” says Kipps, “is the people. I’m providing something healthy that people can’t get anywhere else."

Even among farmers, Ron Kipps is rare.  He’s one of only a handful of buffalo ranchers east of the Mississippi and the lone provider of buffalo meat at New York City farmers markets.

“Customers told me I needed to come to New York City to have meat in winter, so here I am, and I love it,” said Kipps, 63, owner of Elk Trails Ranch in West Clifford, Penn.

Kipps — a 10-year veteran of the Union Square Greenmarket — sells all cuts of bison, from ground meat that goes for $8.50 a pound to higher-end rib-eyes, tenderloins and strip steaks.  Sales of buffalo meat consistently outpace those of comparably priced Black Angus beef, which Kipps also raises on his 605-acre ranch.

“Buff,” he says, sells better because it’s much healthier.  It’s leaner than beef and is high in protein and vitamin B12. According to the National Bison Association, bison has a greater concentration of iron and some of the essential fatty acids necessary for human well-being than other meat sources.

When bison are grass-fed, as Kipps’ are, they’re even healthier.  “Grass-fed buffalo is even leaner than fish,” said Kipps, noting that grass-fed bison meat is the only meat that can be eaten twice a week in the Pritikin diet.  Kipps also points out that his livestock have the added benefit of being raised without antibiotics, hormones, steroids or feed supplements.

For all its health benefits, buffalo meat is hard to come by in the city. Fairway has a limited selection of processed buffalo meat from Canada, and Whole Foods carries ground buffalo for $5.99 a pound.  Consumers won’t have better luck in restaurants.  Of the 10 top steakhouses in New York City, only Nick & Stef’s serves buffalo meat occasionally.

“The infrastructure is mostly west of the Mississippi,” said Jim Matheson, assistant director of the National Bison Association.  Bison are more prevalent in the West where there are slaughterhouses better suited for the size of the animals and where there is more open space.

Even so, the bison industry is growing.  According to the National Bison Association, consumer demand for bison meat grew 10 percent in 2009, the fifth straight year of double-digit growth for bison meat in the marketplace.

The strongest markets for buffalo meat are in the Northeast and Southeast, says Matheson.  The Southeast has a large concentration of retirees looking for healthier food, and the Northeast has highly educated consumers, also eager to eat the healthiest food available.

“The only reason I’m here is the people,” said Kipps, whose business barely breaks even.  “I’m providing something healthy that people can’t get anywhere else.”

Ron Kipps is at the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturdays from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

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