Three years ago a group of Lakota people came to Wild Idea and asked if we could come out to the reservation and harvest their buffalo the same way we harvest our own. These were our neighbors. They had looked at our website and many had heard me raving about Great Plains restoration, respect for buffalo, and the production of America’s finest red meat. They said Wild Idea’s attitude toward such things was very much like their attitudes. Even though those attitudes might have originated in slightly different cultural values, I was honored.
These Lakota buffalo producers wanted to bring the duty and the responsibility of harvesting buffalo back to the land. They did not have the capital to put up expensive shipping corrals and they did not want to subject buffalo to the stressful, and sometimes cruel, treatment of slaughterhouses. They wanted to once again expose the family unit, from children to grandmothers, in the butchering process. They wanted access to all the parts of the buffalo. They wanted to pray over the buffalo for its sacrifice. In short, they wanted a culturally acceptable way to bring their buffalo to market. It so happened, that Wild Idea had pioneered a way to do all that.
But there was a problem. Wild Idea has an agreement with the South Dakota animal industry board that allows us to field harvest our animals under rigorous inspection. We have, for years, been given special dispensation for field harvest that allows us to harvest in the field with an inspector present, and to truck the harvested animals to the inspected processing facility in Rapid City, SD. The problem is that this arrangement only works when the buffalo ranch is close to Rapid City. The ranches of the reservation people are far beyond that limit. An extension of our permit to the reservation was not possible so I had to decline the Lakota rancher’s request.
It upset me that meat inspection regulation prohibited us from bringing our concepts onto the reservations, but meat inspection standards are, of course, very important. It was after an Internet search that I realized that similar problems had been faced and solved by producers of other meat who were interested in the improvement in healthfulness and humane treatment afforded by field harvest. Two months later, Jill and I found ourselves on Lopez Island off the coast of Washington. We visited Bruce Dunlop who had designed, and shepherded through federal certification, a Mobile Harvest Floor (MHF) for harvesting beef, hogs, and lambs from the boutique, organic farms of the San Juan Islands. The MHF was gorgeous in its simplicity and function. It was basically a stainless steel trailer pulled by an over-the-road tractor and fitted with an electric generator, water tanks, winches, and other standard butchering equipment. With the meat inspector looking on, the animals were killed in the field and carried to the MHF by a tractor. Once inside, they were treated as if they were in any other processing plant. They were skinned, eviscerated, cleaned, and rolled, on overhead rails, into the cooler unit at the front of the trailer. This MHF was simply a small, high-tech, and mobile version of the first stages of a modern-day processing plant. When the cooler was full, the product was taken to a stationary processing plant for cutting, cryovacing, and freezing. Jill and I watched it work and realized almost immediately that a version of that machine could be the answer to our dilemma.
With the help of the Mid-west’s premier philanthropic foundation we commissioned a feasibility study that studied the problem of how such a machine might work on the plains of South Dakota. The results of the study were that yes, it was feasible and that perhaps the best approach was to form a non-profit corporation to open the way for tax free donations to fund the purchase and operation of the Mobile Harvest Floor for the first few years. I’m proud to announce that non-profit corporation, Sustainable Harvest Alliance (SHA), is now up and running. The MHF will be ordered next week, and we hope to begin increasing the supply of grass-fed and field harvested Lakota buffalo to markets by this fall.
Our first donor was a Wild Idea customer, Manley Fuller III, who visited us this winter. Our second supporter, and the man who found a way to actually purchase the MHF, is also a Wild Idea customer. He is Jim Borglum (yes, son and grandson of the guys who carved Mount Rushmore). We thank them both and urge any other interested donors to contact SHA through Wild Idea’s website.
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