DX Beef LLC, a business whose mission is “Beef that is local, nutritious, and improving our communities” was founded by Kelsey Ducheneaux Scott, her father Zach, and her husband Monte. The family raises grass-fed beef in the heart of the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation, and wants to help consumers reconnect with their food source.
“I’m a plant and soil nerd,” said Kelsey, a fourth-generation tribal rancher who has a passion for promoting regenerative agriculture practices, and has put her many skills to work in an effort to reconnect consumers to the land by sharing insight into the place and culture where the cattle are raised, how the animals are cared for, and how consumers can access the product.
The Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation encompasses Ziebach and Dewey Counties, each categorized as food deserts by the United States Department of Agriculture. Populations are small and scattered among the communities and access to fresh and local food can be difficult.
In the case of DX Beef, the communities of the Cheyenne River Sioux are first and foremost to their efforts, and in 2020, the COVID-19 situation created challenges and opportunities that have helped to evolve their business in a positive way.
Kelsey and her family started out small in 2019, selling halves and quarters of beef to friends, neighbors and by word of mouth. With an undergraduate degree in Rangeland Management from South Dakota State University, and a graduate degree in Integrated Resource Management from Colorado State University, she found herself applying the lessons learned from a business plan that was her capstone project at CSU to get DX Beef off the ground.
In 2020, they’d established a goal for providing a more consistent product supply necessary to enhance their customer base across Cheyenne River. When the pandemic hit, they rapidly were able to shift their model to accommodate the need for socially distanced delivery to keep their customers and family safe. The coronavirus shifted consumer demand when the local grocery store ran out of beef; sales for their local, direct-to-consumer beef went through the roof.
As the family looked for ways to continue to scale up their business prior to COVID, they had decided to apply for a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant to help them solidify their marketing plan, and in the summer of 2020 DX Beef was awarded a grant for just over $44,000 to help them better promote their business.
Kelsey shared that while their 2019 sales were around $4000, they saw 2020 sales increase by more than 1,300 percent. She credited some quick thinking and critical phone calls to firm up butchering slots to keep business going as much as possible with all the uncertainty around COVID. She worked to develop a better website, and shored up her social media efforts to connect with consumers in the area who were concerned about keeping their refrigerators and freezers stocked.
“We wouldn’t have been able to scale up without the Value Added Producer Grant,” said Kelsey, and she credits her working relationship with the South Dakota USDA Rural Development staff who helped to guide her through the process.
Kelsey, Zach, Monte and her other close family and friends have worked hard to keep their neighbors fed with local and high-quality beef, and have realized their goal to improve the land and the community where they live.
About USDA VAPG
VAPG funding has been offered by the USDA periodically since the early 2000s. A new round of funding is anticipated to be announced in the coming months. To be considered value added, projects must show how products are differentiated in specific ways from commodity crops. Typically, projects must also show how they may deliver greater returns to producers.
Independent producers, farmer or rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and producer-owned business ventures, including non-profit organizations, may apply. In previous cycles, applicants were required to be producers of the raw commodity who will maintain ownership of that commodity through the process of creating a value-added product. Grants have been available for planning projects (such as marketing and business plans and feasibility studies) and working capital projects (which might include wages or packaging supplies). (http://www.rd.usda.gov/)