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On The Scene: Business the cowboy way

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On the Scene
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
A Bon Appetit vendor sells strawberry shortcake and CNB ribs.

The 120-plus ranchers of Country Natural Beef put together a fair in Director Park last Wednesday to promote their product in Portland. Some of CNB’s vendors — New Seasons, Burgerville, Bon Appetit — sold CNB products and other snacks to show just where the product goes. The event displayed one thing quite clearly: The ranchers know what they’re doing.

Amid the strawberry lemonade, lasso contests and cowboy poetry, there were city folk and the most 10-gallon hats I've ever seen. And though Doc Hatfield, the founder of CNB, may have seemed like a quaint country boy when reciting a cowboy poem about friendship, his business acumen is far from it.

Doc and Connie Hatfield were awarded OSU's prestigious Wetherford Award in February for lifelong entreprenurship and innovation, and commitment to social and economic stability of Oregon business.

The Hatfields founded CNB in 1986. The marketing co-op provides members with stability and customers with assurance of "compassionate handling of livestock in an environment well suited for beef cattle." The co-op has grown from a handful of ranches to more than 100. Most of the ranches are family-run, with just enough cattle to sustain a family and one hired hand. Together, the CNB group is a force to be reckoned with.

CNB co-founder Doc Hatfield listens to cowboy poetry in the story circle.

A new partnership with Chipotle restaurants illustrates the point. Restaurants and stores that have a message about the foods they use often turn to CNB. Burgerville's "Eat Local" message and Bon Appetit's sustainability initiatives, all mesh with CNB's message.

Last week's event was intended to get that message out. I spoke with the event's organizer, rancher Dan Barnhart. He said ranchers were in town for a business meeting and brainstormed the fair as a way to show their appreciation to the vendors. "We asked them: How can we help you sell our beef?"

Lasso tricks and barn dancing seems to have been the answer. Multiple camera crews and a good handful of reporters showed up to give CNB some publicity (it didn't hurt that the press pass included free food). The mix of the rancher's jokes ("Today in Portland it's so cold, the lawyers are walking around with their hands in their own pockets!") and Portland's organic food sellers like New Seasons help bridge the rural-urban divide, something CNB has been doing for decades.

Angela Webber is online editor for Oregon Business.


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