Producer Co-ops and Small Farm Meat Processing

By Guest Contributor Jeff Voltz, NABC Project Manager

Cooperation has provided a successful path for small to mid-size local meat producers to get their product to market. On Wednesday November 30 five members of the North Cascades Meat Producers Cooperative and I traveled from Whatcom County down to Thurston County to watch a USDA inspected mobile slaughter unit in action.

This unit is owned by the Pierce Conservation District and leased by the Puget Sound Meat Producers Cooperative (PSMPC). This is the second USDA mobile unit established in the Puget Sound area as Island Grown Farmers Cooperative (IGFC) built the region’s first unit in 2002. It’s important to recognize the work of Bruce Dunlop, owner of Lopez Island Farm, who was instrumental in IGFC’s start-up and the design of Washington State’s first mobile slaughter unit, as well as his work on the design of the new unit we visited.

Based on U.S consumption data it is estimated that the 201,140 residents consume 12.5M pounds of beef per year. At 500 pounds of yielded meat per cow this would be the equivalent of 25,000 cattle. NABC’s conservative estimate is that no more than 1,200 of these cattle actually come from Whatcom County. There is even a great proportionate spread between pork consumption and the availability of locally grown pork. And the spread grows even wider in more the more densely populated counties of the Puget Sound region.

These USDA inspected mobile units are helping local meat production and community access to locally produced meat make great strides. Dunlop estimates the IGFC unit and cooperative have provided for close to $1M per year in expanded economy for San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom County producers.

The North Cascades Meat Producers Cooperative, formed in July of this year has created common production standards and a common brand in order to market locally produced meats (currently Skagit and Whatcom Counties) to supermarkets, restaurants, and institutions. The co-op is interested in leasing the Pierce Conservation District/PSMPC mobile unit and bringing it to Whatcom County twice per month. The co-op would also need to ensure adequate post-slaughter processing capacity either through a local provider, or by creating its own processing facility.

North Cascade Meat’s co-op member Matthew Aamot was favorably impressed with the unit. “It should work very well. We think it has the capacity to harvest up to 15 cattle, 30 hogs or 50 sheep per day. And now that we’ve seen its internal layout and how PSMPC’s systems work, we know what we’ll need to do on our end to set up a site and enhance efficiencies.”

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