CATHERINE TSAI

AP Business Writer

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The Northern Arapaho Tribe has agreed to sell beef raised on its 595,000 certified organic acres in Wyoming to Whole Foods Market Inc., its first major retail customer.

Panorama Meats Inc. is partnering with the tribe to offer Angus beef from the tribe's Arapaho Ranch on the Wind River Reservation to Whole Foods stores in Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Utah.

The agreement offers the tribe $1,400 per head for grass-fed cattle that haven't been in feedlots, or roughly a 25 percent premium to conventional beef, Panorama CEO Mack Graves said Thursday.

Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Harvey Spoonhunter said the tribe is looking to supply around 2,500 head a year.

"It really means a lot, especially in a time of economic downturn," Spoonhunter said. Thirty to 40 people work on the ranch in summer, and about 20 work there in the winter, he said. Most are tribal members.

The tribe previously sold meat in conventional markets at auction and to smaller, local markets, but Business Council members said working with Panorama and Whole Foods offers longer-term stability and better prices.

The deal means Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods gets cattle from a ranch within a seven-hour drive, which it considers to be local.

The ranch protects other wildlife including bears and coyotes that roam the same land as the cattle. "As an Arapaho, those animals are here before our cows were," council member Ron Oldman said. "Part of our heritage is to be nurturers of the land."

Most work is done on horseback rather than ATVs or other vehicles to avoid stressing the cattle.

"Anything living we treat them like a brother," council member Norman Willow said. "That will pass on to the people who eat it."

Oldman said the tribe has been affected by the slumping economy like anyone else but has been helped by the ranch and casinos, two of which have restaurants that serve beef from Arapaho Ranch.

The tribe has had the ranch since 1940 and was certified organic last year, a move the Business Council made to fetch higher beef prices, council member Darrell O'Neal said.

On the Net:

http://www.arapahoranch.com

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.