A Ten Gallon Hatful of Ideas

Rancher and innovator Beth Robinette talks about the state of Spokane-area agriculture and a new venture to help local producers flourish.

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“It’s busy, it’s hot,” Beth Robinette says without hesitating when she’s asked about life on the ranch this July.

It is early Monday, and one of Spokane County’s youngest and most unusual entrepreneurs is drinking coffee beneath the shade of her large, black cowboy hat.

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Beth testifying before the National Organic Standards Board in Seattle.

Whether you’ve been to the Lazy R Ranch  that Beth and her father Maurice, and mom, Ellen, operate in the pines and wetlands of west Spokane County, you’ve almost surely been through it. That’s because the fourth generation cattle ranch is bisected by Interstate-90, a challenge to an operation built upon sustainable practices that requires frequently moving cattle from one side of the freeway to the other.

The rumbling herd at the Lazy R.
The rumbling herd at the Lazy R.

But such is life on the ranch, or at least the Lazy R. Another part is that Beth and Maurice are at the vanguard of a new movement in agriculture to change livestock production from what is often an environmentally destructive practice to one that is sustainable and delivers premium, grass fed beef to consumers. You can learn more about the Robinettes, their philosophy, and approach to ranching in this interview  from October 2012.

Beth and her father Maurice at the Lazy R.
Beth and her father Maurice at the Lazy R.

I caught up with Beth just before she boarded a flight to London to attend an international conference hosted by Allan Savory, the South African visionary behind the sustainable grazing movement. Earlier this month, she and her business partner at Camas Partners — fellow MBA and former Project Hope executive director Joel Williamson—joined with twenty member farms to announce a new cooperative of growers, the Local Inland Northwest Cooperative, LINC. You can watch a short video about LINC here.

The main purpose of LINC is to make it easier and more efficient for local growers to grow and sustain their operations in today’s marketplace. Among other things, the new coop will provide a vehicle for member farmers to sell their food to universities and other large institutional buyers in Spokane who spend about $2 million each day on food purchases.

LINC is also working to raise $10,000 via a crowd-funding campaign that you can read about, and contribute to here.

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