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Roam, Roam on the Range

By Lorrie Baumann

Jonathan SeppWhen Jonathan Sepp left the Air Force after completing his obligation to Uncle Sam for his U.S. Air Force Academy college education, he rediscovered a dream that had been with him since he first saw bison grazing on South Dakota rangeland during a cross-country vacation trip with his parents. “That animal in particular had a magnetic draw,” he says. “After my commitment was done, I could have stayed in the Air Force, but it’s not what I wanted to do.”

IMG_2993That dream is now being realized as a Montana bison ranch and a brand of bison jerky that he launched in July with a cross-country tour of his own, this time pulling an Airstream trailer that he’s decked out as a kind of tiny museum on wheels. The museum is a small series of multimedia exhibits that explain how bison help regenerate a landscape by trampling down encroaching sagebrush, leaving behind hoof prints that act as small catchment basins that trap small amounts of moisture to water the seeds of the surrounding grasses. Since no museum is really complete without a gift shop, at the end of his line of exhibits, there’s a rack on which he’s offering packages of his Roam Free bison jerky for sale.

While the bison jerky is brand new, the Roam Free ranch, situated on 240 acres on the Flathead Reservation in western Montana, is nearly four years old. “The only place we could afford to start was on the reservation and in a gulch,” he says.

IMG_6422Even though he recognized that the scrubby, overgrazed land he could afford wasn’t the best, he didn’t start out knowing much about how to fix that. “I thought, ‘Oh, it’s just ground. You just turn the animals out,’” he says. He didn’t know how to look at grass; he didn’t know much about water; but he figured out in a hurry that he’d better learn or he wasn’t going to last. “Weed education is where I started,” he says.

He started talking to experts in bioregenerative agriculture – the people who could tell him how to take an overgrazed piece of grassland and increase its productivity. “It’s a science. It really is a science,” he says. “We run into a problem and talk to experts, and they help us fix that – and you get better next year.”

IMG_5948The small successes he’s having on his own ranch made him passionate about sharing what he’s learning with others. Spreading the word is key to ensuring that the market for bison meat stays strong, he believes. The roaming museum in the Airstream is the result of that kind of thinking. It’s been nine months in development. “There has to be education in a simple context, and you have to educate people to understand what they’re eating and why it’s healthier,” Sepp says. “We took every cent we had in the ranch to do this.”

The Roam Free jerky that’s for sale at the end of the row of exhibits is offered in four flavors: Wood-Fired Pizza, Original, Thai Chili Ginger and Moroccan Heat. Another two flavors, Sweet Berry BBQ and Morning Maple, are coming soon. The jerky is made from 100 percent bison meat and organic flavoring ingredients. There’s no artificial nitrates, and it’s sugar free, gluten free and carbohydrate free. “Whether you’re diabetic or just looking for ways to be healthier, we wanted to cater to that with our brand,” Sepp says. A package, which is two servings, provides 24 grams of protein.

The jerky is produced in a family-owned processing facility that’s local to the ranch. It’s USDA-certified under the state of Montana, so the jerky can be sold anywhere in the U.S.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the line will be extended with varieties fortified with medium-chain triglycerides derived from coconut, to appeal to Paleo eaters who are working on their healthy fat intake. The new MCT varieties will be offered in each of the six flavors.

For more information, email, which will reach Sepp whether he’s home on the range or out on the road. “We would love to distribute outside of driving in a trailer,” he says. “But if we don’t get there, we’re not going to be upset.”


Culinary Apple Tempts Shoppers to Stay a While

by Micah Cheek

Like many retailers, Mary and David Weldy have felt the pressure of competing with Amazon and other sales sites. But Mary and David aren’t worried about losing money to online markets, because they have made their store everything that Amazon isn’t ― an immersive, informative experience that’s worth traveling for.

Culinary_Apple_061Culinary Apple is located in Chelan, Washington, a tiny resort town in the heart of Apple country and on the edge of Lake Chelan. The store actually got its start from being a gift shop and hub for apple tourism. “We shopped for everything apple! Apple candles, apple teapots and apple aprons, to name a few. That’s how we became the ‘Apple Store,’” says David Weldy, Co-Owner. “We private labeled our apple jams, jelly and butters. We started selling beautiful apple gift baskets with these items including fresh harvested apples. And then we ultimately got into buying a fudge factory and putting it in the store.” After separately opening a kitchenware store as well, the Weldys decided to put their two businesses together. “We took the best of each store and developed that. Look at all that fresh fudge! Roasted glazed nuts! [You come in and] all of a sudden you see so many things that you wouldn’t expect in a kitchen store,” David adds. Dubbed Culinary Apple, the new store has been curated with items for each wave of customers that will come in throughout the year. During the summer, Chelan’s population swells from 7,000 to 25,000 with the influx of tourists and people who own second homes on the edge of the lake. “We’re kicking off our high season now. Our peak time frame is June, July and August,” says Mary, Co-Owner. “We have what’s called ‘Conference Season.’ We do conference gifts and attendee gifts. That’s March, April and May, and again in September, October and November, which is our harvest time for apples. Even though our visitors and tourists have gone back to the other side of the mountains, we still have our conference attendees.”

Lots of Culinary Apple’s kitchenware business comes from the seasonal residents who need to outfit their second home with new tools or something they forgot on the trip. “Obviously kitchen gadgets are a huge part of our business,” says David. For a time, the store was also outfitted with a wide variety of electric appliance options as well. But as time passed, the profits from small electrics began to shrink. “We don’t carry a lot of that product like we used to. We’ve already eliminated Vitamix, they’ve sold their soul to Amazon. We were doing Soda Stream, but all the big box stores got involved in it, so we moved away from Soda Stream,” says David. “We reduced our electric lines, and got a lot of shelf space for things that turn better with higher margins.”

The Weldys have created a strong engagement program for customers both online and in the store itself. “We created our own rewards program,” says Mary. “We have over 6,000 people in our rewards program. We send them an email, and our monthly open rate for that email is about 22 percent.” David adds, “We have so many people coming in for that birthday reward. We send them 10 dollars and they walk out with 100 dollars of merchandise.” Culinary Apple also has a schedule of sales that coincide with tastings and tool demonstrations. “Because it’s Reward Friday, when you let people know they can come into the store and get 20 percent off anything that isn’t excluded, we have a lot of people in the store. And a lot of them go to the Gadget Playdate.” The return from the Gadget Playdate can be substantial. Mary adds, “I would say on average, we have a solid 30 people that purchase, and they purchase on a pretty good volume. We’ll actually have customers come in on Thursday to take a look, and then come in to buy on Friday.”

When the rewards bring them to the store, customers will meet a Culinary Apple team that the Weldys have seriously invested in educating. “We do a phenomenal business in knives, and it’s because our team knows a lot about knives,” says Mary. David adds, “A few weeks ago we had WÜSTHOF do training in store for the staff followed by a sales training trip to Seattle for knife skill training by Shun. Then we went to Progressive [International] and did about a six-hour training with them.” To make sure their staff is as knowledgeable as possible, Mary and David take their team to as many company training programs as they can. “We gave up about $2,500 in sales by closing our store, we spend about $800 to take our team over, but that was so inexpensive compared to the team building, training and brainstorming. Every time we get back to the store we see how enthusiastic everyone is to share what they have learned. It just pays off dividends.”

The experienced staff integrates into a store experience designed to appeal to all the senses. “When you come in you’ll smell nuts roasting, or someone in the back making fudge. We’re still getting lots of baby boomers, so we play that music that appeals to them. It makes them feel good,” says David. “Then they’re greeted with one of our team. ‘Hello, would you like to try a cinnamon-glazed pecan?’ And then they get a taste. It’s about appealing to all the senses.”

store photoCulinary Apple has leveraged its fruit-focus theme to leverage deals with manufacturers. “We just completed an agreement with Dexas. They have a beautiful apple cutting board that we sell in the store. We have a co-op that looks for apple products to give to their growers for their big annual fall harvest party,” says David. “We [also] did that with JK Adams with their apple cutting board. These are the kinds of things we’ve done to grow our business. You’ve got to think outside of the box, not just waiting for that next customer to walk into your store, but reaching out to corporate clients and asking for there business. Like our sign says on our front door, ‘Culinary Apple a store to experience.’”

Rogue Creamery Showcases Raw Milk, Organic Blue Cheese at Bra

Rogue Creamery is exhibiting its award winning raw milk, organic Rogue River Blue® and Smokey Blue® cheeses at the world’s largest cheese festival, Cheese, a biennial event held in the Northern Italy city of Bra.

This is the 20th Anniversary of Cheese; this Slow Food® event is expected to draw more than 270,000 visitors with its 300 plus exhibitors representing 23 nations. Rogue Creamery is exhibiting at Bra for the fifth time in a row; the creamery was the 1st American Cheesemaker to ship raw milk cheese to the European Union in 2007, leading the way for a select few other American cheesemakers.

Rogue River BlueRaw milk, organic Rogue River Blue has won more than a dozen national and international awards over the last 14 years including World’s Best Blue at the World Cheese Awards in London. It was recently recognized both as Best American Cheese and as one of the Top 16 Cheeses in the World at the 2012 World Cheese Awards. It also won Best in Show at the American Cheese Society Awards in both 2011 and 2009.

“Our organic, raw milk Rogue River Blue is wrapped in organic Syrah grape leaves that have been macerated in organic pear liqueur. Its forward, well-aged flavor tastes of brandy, fruit and burnt cream. The flavors of our signature terroir include hints of sweet pine, wild ripened berries, hazelnuts, morels and pears,” said David Gremmels, Cheesemaker and President.

Rogue River Smokey BlueRaw milk, organic Smokey Blue won first place at both the 2015 and 2009 American Cheese Society Competition, Best American Cheese at the World Cheese Awards, the Innovation Award at the 2006 SIAL Paris Awards and Outstanding New Product at the 2005 Summer Fancy Food Show. A long gentle cold-smoking, over Oregon hazelnuts shells infuse Smokey Blue with an added layer of rich flavor and terroir. Sweet cream flavors and caramel notes balance earthy flavors of smoke and hints of roasted nuts. The result is a smooth blue cheese reminiscent of candied bacon.

Rogue Creamery’s international award winning handmade cheese is produced from USDA Certified Organic milk from its own organic dairy and made using sustainable practices. Earlier this month, Rogue Creamery celebrated its 2017 Best for the World recognition by meeting the highest standards of verified, overall social and environmental performance, public transparency and accountability as judged by the nonprofit B Lab. The Creamery’s cheese is carried in Whole Foods Market, Neal’s Yard Dairy, London and Fromagerie Laurent Dubois, Paris.

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