The North Cascades Meat Producers Cooperative presented information about its business plan to more than 80 Island, Skagit, and Whatcom County meat producers, businesses, community members, and the media on Thursday, June 7 at the St. Luke’s Educational Center at in Bellingham. The cooperative was formed to help improve access to USDA processing for local meat producers as well as providing a branded marketing and distribution program that will help producers to work together to service larger scale grocery and institutional markets.
Board President Pat Grover, owner of Buttin’ Grove Farm presented information about membership and cooperative benefits. A key component of this plan will be the use of a USDA-inspected mobile slaughter unit which will be leased from the Pierce County Conservation District. This self-contained unit will be stationed at a farm site in Whatcom County and possibly a site in Skagit County, initially projected at six days per month. The unit can accommodate the harvest of up to 12 beef, 20 pork, or 30 lambs per day. The finished carcasses will then be transported in a refrigerated truck to a processing plant at a yet-to-be-determined location in Whatcom County.
Board Vice President Sandy Matheson, owner of Matheson Farms, shared details about the development of the North Cascade Meats, A Farmers Cooperative brand. The cooperative’s board of directors has developed and agreed upon common production standards for beef, pork, and lamb that ensure animals are pasture or grass finished (no grains), no feed antibiotics or hormones are used, no petroleum-based fertilizers are used on pastures, and no detrimental impacts to riparian areas are permitted.
The meeting was attended by Jim Ashby, General Manager, and Shawn McGuirk, Meat Manager, of Community Food Co-op; Steve Papadakis, owner of Dirty Dan Harris Steak House; and Derek Som, Executive Chef of Food and Nutrition Services for Peace Health. “We’re really excited that local meat producers have formed The North Cascades Meat Producers Cooperative to market their products under a common label,” states Jim Ashby, of Community Food Co-op. “We work with several of the individual producers now that belong to the co-op and know the great quality of their products. Our owners and shoppers will really value knowing that the same high quality standards will be behind all the products from the cooperative.”
The cooperative’s founding board of directors has been working with the Northwest Agriculture Business Center to develop this plan since 2010. Matthew Aamot, a local producer and owner of Hannegan Farm and Home, has served as the cooperative’s Secretary-Treasurer. “Initially we formed a steering committee in order to put together a group of producers to purchase a local USDA processing plant that was up for sale. That opportunity didn’t pan out but we thought there was a great opportunity and potential for local producers to work together to co-brand and market, as well as gaining greater control of our own destinies by pooling efforts and resources.”
NABC has been able to provide technical assistance for this cooperative and business start-up through a USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant. Project Manager Jeff Voltz is now working with the cooperative and legal support to select the appropriate exemptions from State and Federal securities regulations in order to begin accepting members and selling equity shares in the cooperative. The cooperative hopes to be able to begin this process in early August.
For more information on the meeting, you can see more photos, video of the presentation, news coverage from the Skagit Valley Herald, as well as the latest North Cascades Meat Producer Cooperative update.