Keeping it local

December 2013

Katherine Locke

Since its launch last November, the Navajo Beef program has generated half a million dollars for Navajo ranchers and their communities.

Through the program, local Navajo ranchers raise high quality beef. Labatt Food Service distributes the beef and the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise (NNGE) purchases it to serve in its resort, casinos and restaurants.

The Navajo Beef Program has produced 545 head of cattle and has returned more than $500,000 of revenue back into local Navajo communities. Navajo Beef Program ranchers are located at Padres Mesa Ranch in Chambers Ariz., 14-R in the New Lands area and Turquoise Grazers in Window Rock, Ariz. 

The 14-R Ranch is located on a 365,000 acre parcel of ranch land in Nahata Dziil, Ariz., where hundreds of Navajo families were relocated as a settlement between the Hopi and Navajo during the 1980s. The name 14-R comes from the 14 range management units where Navajo families own and care for cattle.

Al Pahi, president of 14-R, said the chefs at the casinos are happy with the taste of Navajo beef. He said it mirrors a taste he used to enjoy when eating the sheep his family raised.

"This is only a guess, but this shrub grows in the high country and I know back in the old place where we ran sheep... I used to crave mutton because of that," Pahi said.

The ranchers uphold traditional practices to produce premium, quality beef that is always tender and full of flavor. All the cattle are grass fed and Navajo certified beef is choice grade or better and aged 21 days. 

Pahi said he feels the partnership between the local ranch families, Labatt Food Service and the casinos is a good one for all the parties involved.

"Since we started this thing, there is a high demand for it," Pahi said. "I don't think these [ranchers] ever saw this much money for their product in their life."

He said 14-R asks for prime pricing for the ranchers and they receive it because of the quality of the product they produce and the way the cattle are prepped before being sold.

"That's the bottom line, getting a good price for these [ranchers]," Pahi said.

14-R managers are trying to create jobs for Navajos by training workers to run vaccination programs, teaching people how to handle animals and training workers to keep records necessary for federal regulations.

The ranch has sent cowboys to Albuquerque and Oklahoma to get more experience in all areas of beef production from ranching, to the feed lot, to the distribution of the product to the casinos.

Pahi said the work is full of new things to learn for everyone and there is a lot of work to be done in range management.

"It is challenging," Pahi said. "It is ongoing." 

Navajo Beef is on the menu at Fire Rock Navajo Casino, Northern Edge Navajo Casino and Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort - three of NNGE's properties. 

"We are proud to be such an important part of the Navajo Beef Program's success, which is just one component of NNGE's larger commitment to buy Navajo," said Derrick Watchman, CEO of NNGE. "The Navajo Beef Program allows our properties to better showcase Navajo, provide world-class cuisine and generate revenue and jobs for the Navajo people. We would like to thank the Navajo Nation Council - including Council Delegate Lorenzo Curley - for their efforts to make this visionary program a reality."

Al Silva, chief operating officer of Labatt Food Service, said it is a privilege to help hard-working local ranchers receive the fair payment they deserve for producing high quality beef.

"We know the success of this program allows the ranchers to improve their lives and increase the quality of life in their communities," he said.

Labatt Food Service, the 10th largest food distributor in the country, ensures the quality of the beef, that local Navajo ranchers receive fair payment and that the entire animal is used. After the initial success of the program, Labatt plans to expand the program in 2014.