Dana Ehrlich '89 says his grass-fed meats company, Verde Farms
, "was born when I went horseback riding on an estancia
in the South American Pampas. Everywhere around me, cattle roamed freely, munching grass beneath an endless blue sky and a backdrop of saw-toothed foothills."
This scene proved a striking contrast to beef farming in the U.S., says Ehrlich, where cattle begin on pastures but are then confined to feedlots, fed government-subsidized grain-based rations filled with antibiotics, and implanted with growth hormones to promote weight gain artificially.
"The more that I learned about the U.S. system, the more that I was inspired to transform the meat that American consumers eat," Ehrlich reveals.
In 2004, Ehrlich came up with the idea for his grass-fed, organic beef importing business, and he wrote a business plan around importing beef from Uruguay, New Zealand, and Australia for his M.B.A. thesis at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business in 2005.
At the time, he recalls, organic food was a concept met with much skepticism. “My professor hated it, and my classmates thought it was a terrible idea,” he said. Even his parents wondered why a man with degrees from the University of Pennsylvania’s Management and Technology program and an M.B.A. from Dartmouth would want to start a meat company.
“People thought that it was only tree-huggers who were into organic, and tree-huggers were vegetarians, not meat eaters,” he said.
Unable to secure financing from private investors, in 2006 Ehrlich used $100,000 from savings and student loans to start his company. It was slow going early on, but everything changed in early 2009, when he signed on two national retailers, Wegmans and Costco. Other clients now include Whole Foods, Market Basket, abd Boloco.
Verde Farms, which was recently covered in a New York Times article
about self-financed entrepreneurial companies, sold 10.1 million pounds of grass-fed beef in 2015, and its sales were more than $50 million.
"I think you're seeing a shift in how we think about beef here in the states. It's not just about reducing meat consumption and depriving ourselves – it's about eating better
meat," said Ehrlich in a company press release
. "The reason we're seeing such success is because Verde Farms has always been committed to sourcing and delivering the best 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef products that are better across the board. Better for consumers, better for the animals and better for the environment."
Verde Farms works closely with family farmers in Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand, and North America that farm by a "Never-Ever" commitment. This means that feedlots, grain, antibiotics, and growth hormones are never part of the picture.Studies suggest that grass-finished beef may be lower in fat and calories than grain-finished beef and has higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, CLA's (Conjugated Linoleic Acid — an essential fatty acid thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks), and more antioxidant vitamins, like Vitamin E.