Two things about Bill Niman, chairman of Niman Ranch, might surprise anyone who knows the name only from supermarket packages or descriptions on restaurant menus: He still works his own ranch in Bolinas, California, and he lives in a simple two-bedroom house he built himself in the 1970s.
Niman doesn't just market sustainability, he walks the walk.What began with a few orphaned bottle-fed calves in 1972 is now one of the nation's largest purveyors of sustainably raised meat. Bill and his wife, Nicolette Hahn Niman (a former attorney for Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Waterkeeper Alliance), oversee a network of 500 family-owned farms and ranches across the country that follow their prescribed animal-husbandry practices.
They also have two ranches of their own, in Bolinas and Chileno Valley, and with help from ranch hand Annie Van Peer, they feed the animals, keep an eye on pregnant cows, and track the cattle on the grassy green hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Bill believes that well-cared-for animals produce better meat, but there's an ethical component to his practices too (see below). Nicolette shares his standards, albeit from a different angle.
"I'm a vegetarian," she says, "so when I'm okay with how this ranch operates and how these animals are treated, I think that's really saying something."