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Taking the Leap Into Entrepreneurship Transcript

Deanna Sand, co-owner of Prairie Soul Meats, talks starting a value-added agriculture business, balancing family and business, and the lessons she's learned as a woman entrepreneur.

Transcript
Jodi Bruns: Welcome to “Thriving on the Prairie,” a podcast exploring issues concerning families and communities that inspires North Dakota movers, shakers and community difference-makers to engage in lifelong learning. Hi, I’m Jodi Bruns, leadership and civic engagement specialist with NDSU Extension. Today, I will be visiting with Deanna Sand from Prairie Soul Meats. Deanna took a leap of faith and left her career and city paycheck to be an entrepreneur in a livestock industry.

Jodi: Alright, so thanks for joining us today for the NDSU Extension podcast. So we're kicking off this inaugural podcast in celebration of women's entrepreneurship week and our guest today is Deanna Sand. And Deanna is from the Ashley area, and I'll have her introduce herself. Good morning, Deanna.

Deanna Sand: Thanks for having me. Well, I ranch west of Forbes in between Ellendale and Ashley, so we have every address and phone number possible. So we ranch in the hills, and we raise grass-fed beef, all home-raised. It’s lived here it’s whole life. We have also sheep and pigs, and we have a business called Prairie Soul Meats where we direct-market our beef.

Jodi: So you guys have been, you ranch with your husband Cody, and I know that your three kids...here’s a disclaimer, Deanna and I have known each other I would say most of our lives through 4-H, and then our kids were in school together. So, I've watched you on this journey here. And when, when you quit your job, I thought you were a brave soul. So how did you decide to take that leap of faith to quit your job and really embrace this entrepreneurship venture?

Deanna: We had taken an holistic management class in 2011, so we kind of changed over from conventional ranching, really doing everything the hard way, to really learn about more holistic and different grazing. So when we did that there was a grant available for fencing and water infrastructure. And anybody who knows my husband knows he’s like  all in on everything so instead of putting up like one cross fence we did like seven miles of pipeline and 27 water tanks and 65 primitive pastures. And so it was a lot of work and a lot of things. So he asked me, he's like would you consider quitting your job and I’m like No… (laugh) ...Pretty scary.

Jodi: Yeah, right.

Deanna:  Yeah so I quit my job and then that changed into just grazing different and doing more things and then 5 or 7 years later all the sudden we have a grass-fed beef business. 

Jodi: Well that's exciting. You had quite a commute everyday and you know I did that too, and fought bad weather and roads. And you know I don't miss that but do you miss the interaction with people every day, and going to work or any regrets with that?

Deanna: Not anymore (laugh) 

Jodi: Yeah good. That's good. 

Deanna : I worked for an optometrist for twenty years, and that’s what I went to school for. I was an optometric assistant. So I drove an hour one way every day for roughly twenty years. I miss the patients but then I get to run into them at farmers markets and things like that. And it’s funny... when I call down to work it's still my voice on the answering machine. So it’s like I’m still there and never left. 

Jodi: Nice.

Deanna: 6 years of not working and when I quit, all three of the kids were still at home. Our oldest was probably a junior….a sophomore or junior, so it was fun to be able to be around for that chaos and not have to drive.

Jodi:  You know thinking about you know what's the best part about being an entrepreneur and maybe the worst part? Is there a worst part? Or is everyday like ``Oh, I'm so glad we did this?”

Deanna: Well it is super fun once we’ve gotten into the meat business. It’s really such a  blessing to be able to provide a good nutritional product to people who are looking for it. There's people who have issues like fibromyalgia and some other kind of internal issues and they literally cannot eat beef anymore and whether it's for whatever reason they can eat our beef.  We don't use any chemicals on the land or the cattle. And they're always on grass so there's just something about it that's more natural and it doesn't bother them. So it's fun when you find those people who you're really helping and and that's a blessing.  The entrepreneur part I mean it's sure fun when you go to work and then somebody gives you a paycheck all the time no matter what you do…. you show up and then you get a paycheck.

Jodi: Yeah there’s that. (laughs)

Deanna: So this is different for sure. And then when COVID hit that was great and horrifying at the same time. We had already had some beef processed and in the freezer, planning ahead for farmers market. And then we had got approved to go to Fargo farmers market and at the same time we had butchered it... set up luckily hoping we could get in there. But then COVID hit and everything is just in chaos and you can't get in. So we're fortunate we still have stuff set up for next year. But then do you go bigger and find a different bigger plant? Do you stay where you are? Do you just hope it’s fine? So yeah, all that stuff. It’s a lot of moving parts.  

Jodi: So your business has expanded. I mean when you when you first started this, I mean you now you're like you said, you mentioned the Red River Farmers Market and I saw you there this weekend. And I was shocked at how busy... you know...  people were just asking you... it was so many questions and I could hear people asking you about your ranch and about the beef and the process and so what is,  what are some of the things people ask you? What do they want to know about your ranch or your process?

Deanna: They want to know how it’s raised. If it’s always ours or if it comes from somewhere else. So people usually want to know that. You know it's funny when you get in an urban setting, like Fargo. There's so many people that just if you're at the market, they just assume that what you say is what it is and they expect it to be a certain caliber. You know they expected it's not going to be the same stuff they're getting from a random grocery store. There’s some people very happy to have us there which is really pretty cool like they're seeking us out and that's pretty neat 

Jodi: Well I think part of that is the reputation you’ve built. And you and Cody have been very approachable. What would you say is your business philosophy?

Deanna: I don’t know if we have one. Maybe that's a problem. Maybe we should get one of those.  

Jodi: (Laughs)

Deanna:I think just really being pretty transparent and really welcoming to whatever. The first week we were at the market, there was a young girl in her twenties and her and her mom, I think were there, and we were super busy so I didn't actually get to meet her that day and Cody did. She emailed a day later and said, “It was great. It was amazing. Can we come tour your place?” And they came just a couple weeks ago for like an all-day tour. And it was you know... they wanted to see what we do, what the place looks like, how they're raised? You know all kinds of food questions and that is like so fun. That's the best part. 

Jodi: That’s interesting and generous of you to open up your home and your ranch to an outsider like that.  

Deanna: We’ve done a lot of tours in the past on a different, bigger scale for different reasons. More for the soil health and grass and grazing. But now it's kind of coming full circle into the food and that's really fun. 

Jodi: What would you say are the lessons learned over the few years you've been doing this?

Deanna: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t know if there's any actual lessons... just you learn something new everyday and then you just keep going. I mean there's always a little roadblocks or a little changes or. 

Jodi: So you and Cody seem to balance each other out. Whatever his strong suit is, you seem to take the other side of that. And so what would be some, you know, maybe advice for other women entrepreneurs?  Maybe their business partners with a spouse or a friend or maybe they're seeking out a business opportunity on their own. Any nuggets of advice for other women entrepreneurs or wannabes?

Deanna: Well I’m much more conservative in the “wait and let’s take it slow” and he’s like “Yep we’re doing it all now.” And so that's the good thing because I probably wouldn't have my own business for sure because it's not really my personality so we just, we do balance each other out and good partners in that where he’s all in and doing everything and then I'll figure out how it has to get done. You know the regulations and working with those departments in the licensing and the “this-and-the-that” and the state line deal that's we only live a mile and a half from South Dakota so it's different licenses to sell down there and different things for here and sales tax and no sales tax, you know what's all that stuff that he wants zero to do with so then I just get to figure it out.

Jodi: Well that’s a good balance. That's a really good balance. How has your industry changed since you and Cody started this? Your family? What have you seen as changes? I know that regulations has been a struggle  for many many people in local foods but it seems quite popular but yet some of the regulation issues have been a struggle I know. So what's changed?

Deanna: Well the way that we ranch would be less regulation maybe. I don't know how to word this so it comes out right. but when we were selling into the Sale Barn  in the conventional market. You're selling an animal much younger. So when you change to a grass-fed like we are, kind of low input grass-fed, that they take a lot longer to grow. So we're butchering things about 28 to 30 months of age. So instead of selling them that first year we hold them over another year. And if we don't have a market for those, they're worth way less in the conventional market because they’ve already grown and there isn’t money to make on the back-end. So I think for us, it's planning ahead 2 or 3 years ahead of time and making sure that, that we have what we need. Because if we aren't able to direct-market it or market it through a grass-fed place then we’re kinda screwed and then you're going backwards. So I don't know, for us it’s less regulation maybe and more just keep going forward and keep planning. 

Jodi:So, I'm curious talking to other entrepreneurs and people seeking out new opportunities. How has social media changed your business? 

Deanna: I’m so bad at social media. It can probably do a lot of amazing things for my business. And that’s one thing I have to get a lot better at. Having a website, that was huge. That's the hugest thing. (Hugest, I don’t even think that is a word.) That is the best thing that I finally got done and that took forever to put that together. And have a face of your business and it gives you credibility and it gives…. You know people don’t have time to come and talk to you everywhere or visit at the market or come to a market….but. There's a website called Eatwild.com and I think they’re out of Oregon. And they have people through every state that you know if you’re really doing what you say you're doing, they check on you and and if everything is on the up-and-up, you can be a part of Eat Wild. It's funny that people that we find or that will find us from Eat Wild and some of those places but if you don't have a website for them to go to they might not find you. I do less on social media and I need to do a lot more.

Jodi: Well the world is certainly a small place and they say right.

Deanna: Yeah. Yeah. I finally got on Instagram. And I had commented on somebody's random something, and a girl, who her husband, I think, he's a professor in Vermilion, she found me through Instagram, and ordered beef. And he's just reordered more. And you know she moves from a different state and our product is what they always had. So it was kind of neat a connection.  

Jodi: Yeah, you never know. So, if anybody's just joined us, so we are with Deanna Sand today with Prairie Soul Meats. She's talking about her journey from being an optometrist assistant to joining her husband in their…. started off as beef industry raising cattle right.

Deanna: Yep

Jodi:  And then going to purely grass-fed holistic grazing system. And your interview that you did, last Friday, on First Friday’s at B, you had mentioned being Audubon certified is that, is that correct what I'm certified.  So, tell me about that certification what that means to your business? 

Deanna: Um for us it’s kind of a differentiating factor. There's a lot of people who do what we do you know what that might be similar. The audubon certification... they, they have a third-party audit that comes out and verifies what you do. And if what you say you do is accurate and correct. We have a magical piece of paper that says we do that. Some of the things that you can't do, you can’t hay until after July fifteenth because of nesting bird habitat.  No chemicals. is everything we already did but really they're they're trying to focus on bird habitat for for nesting grassland birds. So a lot of the birds that are on our ranch and nest here, actually over-winter in Mexico. And so but a lot of the the habitat has been lost to conversion with farming and urban populations and that kind of thing. They're trying to focus on getting people to understand that we need cattle on the land grazing to have the bird habitat. To have the beef. you know to have everything full circle. So it's a it's a fairly new program. They’ve been out probably three years or so. They’re just really trying to get their name out there and help build businesses like ours.

Jodi:  I thought some of the conversation was interesting... to about, how does dealing with change and how working with, even neighbors, talking about and accepting the way of how you how you are doing business now. And so you talked a little bit about this the other day the other day last week. How do you deal with some of the negativity or even misunderstanding in your industry? Have you faced some of that?

Deanna: Not really. No. I mean it’s probably more about us but not to us, maybe. And maybe everybody else does similar things to what we do but I think we're a little bit different and unique in way that we, that we do things kind of non-conventional. But there's less of a need for outside information I guess. Maybe people talk about us more than we go to talk to other people like us. And we’re mentors for the North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition. So we do get calls from people who are like “Hey, how do I start this? How do I do this?” You know so so it's kind of fun people know that we do something a little different and unique. It's a long process to change. It's not magic. And it's not overnight.

Jodi: Well that’s a great thing that you’re willing to give back and be a mentor to someone else who is willing to do this. I'm sure there are plenty of people and also in other industries is sometimes it's fine, it's hard to find that mentorship. Or even someone to give you some advice. So that's…. that's awesome. So do you have a vision for let's say five years down the road for Prairie Soul Meats? Or a dream?

Deanna: Ahhh…. I don’t know. I guess you’d have to ask Cody that. I’m just along for the ride.

Jodi: (laugh) C’mon I know better than that. 

Deanna: Just continue direct-market. It’s been really fun to get into Fargo, you know, more urban. It would be fun at some point to perhaps shift our website over to more of an order and drop, ship type thing. You know that would be something in the future. But then you have to have inventory on hand and all that kind of stuff. So I think just keep going and hopefully growing and…just you have to get out there more I guess. I don't know that I see us doing a lot more retail type things. We sell retail at one store in Aberdeen, South Dakota... then to keep inventory and all that stuff. I don’t know.  I would like to keep it very beneficial for everyone and yet simple for us. I don't know if that works together or not.

Jodi: (Laughs) That’s a good business model right there. (Laughs)  I think that’s good. It's interesting the journey you've been on. And I think just being available to other people. You've been so open and willing to share information and infield questions and being helpful to others who are looking at this kind of business. So I'll leave you with final words. Any other comments you'd like to leave for any women thinking about venturing out and taking a risk and being entrepreneurs?

Deanna: Well it’s fun and intriguing and something to learn. And it’s a trickle down, too. There are several people who mentored us to get us to where we are. So I... I think just go find people who can help you and answer questions. Obviously you've, I’ve texted you more than once.  We’re selling, you know, meat and beef throughout the state that have helped us a bunch.

Jodi: Yeah. That's good advice. Alright Deanna, thanks for your time today. Again we just spent some time with Deanna Sand from Prairie Soul Meats and again, it's we're celebrating women's entrepreneurship week and hope you enjoyed today's podcast.

Jodi: Thanks for listening to Thriving on the Prairie. To subscribe to the podcast and access a full transcript and resource links from this episode visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/thrivingontheprairie. You can find more resources for families and communities at ndsu.edu/extension. This has been a production of NDSU Extension, where we are extending knowledge and changing lives.

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