Image: Brooke Bass

If you could spend a few moments browsing through typical American menus from the last several decades, you'll see the same proteins appearing over and over again: beef, pork, chicken. If you’re lucky, you might see an occasional lamb chop.

It wasn’t until recently that chefs—particularly those who aligned themselves with the local food movement—started demanding a more diverse set of sustainably raised meats to fill their walk-ins. Game meats have become a darling of chefs around the country, from wild boar and elk to water buffalo and quail—the lot of which are generally leaner and often more flavorful than their standard livestock counterparts. But many savvy chefs had a problem—game meats were hard to come by, and, if they were able to acquire them, many were left with lingering questions regarding the farming and processing practices that brought the animals to their kitchens.

But with no real distribution model to tap into, how could aspiring game farmers even begin to create change within the game...game?

Enter Geoff and Melody Latham, owners of Portland-based Nicky USA—one of the few West Coast companies dedicated to butchering and distributing sustainably-raised game meat. Since the 1990s, the Lathams have built a name throughout the Northwest as one of the top purveyors of meat coming from sustainable, family-owned farms—and they've recently expanded their distribution empire to Seattle and set out to become the only Northwest meat distributor to also raise their own meat.

With the acquisition of a 35.9-acre former hops and cattle farm in Aurora, Oregon, the pair returned to their farming roots—raising quail, rabbits, and goats, processing the animals in-house in a state-of-the-art mobile butchering facility (one of the nation’s only USDA-approved mobile processing units made specifically for both poultry and hooved animals), and distributing their products to local and regional chefs. Thanks to this farm-to-chef approach, the Nicky model cuts down transportation time animals undergo during processing, and gives the Lathams the ability to certify the humane treatment of animals throughout the process. Many of the meats, like the rabbits coming from the new Nicky Farm, are delivered to chefs same day using the company’s many distribution vans that you'll spy scurrying around the streets of Portland daily.

We made mention of the new Nicky Farm earlier this summer—on occasion of their retail partnership with New Seasons—and received some commentary that seemed to indicate a general confusion about the farm: Do they raise their own animals or don’t they? Are they using sustainable farming practices? Is there even a tangible farm in existence or is it all in a name (read: brand)? We wanted to see the farm with our own eyes (yes, it does exist), so we trucked out to Aurora for an in-depth tour. What we saw was a man, a farm, and a whole lotta happily-raised animals basking in fresh Oregon farmland air.

Want to check out Nicky’s new wave yourself? Scroll through the slideshow above or snag your tickets to the company's annual Wild About Game event, happening September 7 at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood—one of our favorite food events of the year. Better yet, leave us a comment below telling us about your favorite game dish (think rabbit, quail, goat, bison, elk, buffalo, emu, bison), either homemade or found in a restaurant, for a chance to win a pair of coveted tickets to Wild About Game!

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