Wild Idea Buffalo Company Aims to Restore the Great Plains One Bite at a Time

Wild Idea Buffalo Company, based in Rapid City, South Dakota, is a company on a mission. According to their website:

Wild Idea Buffalo Company is more than a meat company. It is a vision of environmental health, animal health and human health. It is driven by people like you, who care about the foods we eat and the world in which we share.

I was exceptionally lucky to spend a few hours eating buffalo and talking shop with the great folks behind Wild Idea last week (full disclosure: after a delicious five-course bison dinner, I was sent home from their event with buffalo jerky and a copy of Dan's book, Buffalo for the Broken Heart). The team is easily as passionate about biodiversity and sustainability as they are about good food, and it shows.

Dan O'Brien, the author, biologist, teacher, and rancher behind Wild Idea Buffalo Company, is an engaging, impressive man. Here's a short excerpt from his bio:

Dan has been a wildlife biologist and rancher for more than thirty years. He is also one of the most celebrated falconers in America today and was a prime mover in the restoration of peregrine falcons in the Rocky Mountains in the 1970s and 80s.   

Dan is one of the most powerful literary voices on the Plains. Described by the New York Times “as a writer with a keen and poetic eye…” His novels are The Spirit of the Hills, In the Center of the Nation, Brendan Prairie, The Contract Surgeon and The Indian Agent, and newly released in September 2010, Stolen Horses. Dan’s memoirs on falconry include The Rites of Autumn and Equinox, which are intimate and revealing explorations of his life-long search for wildness on the Plains.

Did you get that? Dan -- in his 60s -- is a biologist, restorer of the peregrine falcon, author of five novels and several non-fiction books, teacher (at Carleton, in Northfield), buffalo rancher, and entrepreneur. What have you been doing lately?

Dan told me that more than half of the buffalo in this country are owned by Ted Turner (yes, that Ted Turner), and that they're raised on corn in feedlots, much like cattle. The romantic idea that many of us hold -- that most of the buffalo we eat are free to roam as they please ("oh, give me a home...") -- is simply not true. In fact, the oft-touted health benefits of eating buffalo are often exaggerated too, depending on the buffalo you're eating. A chart on the Wild Idea website shows that grass fed buffalo has less than half as much fat than its grain fed counterpart, and a third fewer calories.

Grass Fed Buffalo Meat Costs More

Wild Idea's enthusiastic new CEO, Josh Resnik, fresh off of 13 years working in General Mill's Marketing department, is practical when it comes to getting his product into consumers' hands. There's no denying, at $10 per pound of ground meat ($19.50 for a 10 oz. ribeye steak), that buffalo meat is currently considered a gourmet food. Still, Josh feels that the current trend -- at least among some consumers -- towards buying better meat, but less of it, bodes well for the future of Wild Idea.

In between sales and marketing meetings whose goal is to get Wild Idea's products into local co-ops and grocery stores, Josh spends his Saturdays at the Mill City Farmers Market (where he's been a board member for several years), educating consumers on the benefits of buying grass fed buffalo meat. Josh was glad to have sold three full buffalo tongues on opening weekend, and I'm guessing he'll still have some left to sell you if you stop by this Saturday.

A Great Idea Whose Time Has Come

Dan O'Brien's buffalo roam on 10,000 diverse acres, restoring the land to its native pasture all the while. The meat, as I experienced last week in several glorious forms (jerky, pastrami, short rib, brisket, and tenderloin), is delicious and tender when correctly prepared, with health benefits beyond those of beef.

I'm excited that Wild Idea exists, and I'm hopeful that they'll be able to achieve their goals. As Dan told me last week, "we don't need that many people to buy good food in order to make a real difference." Sign me up.



Lee Zukor is the founder of Simple, Good, and Tasty. Email him at