The Northwest Agriculture Business Center has been awarded $123,633 in grant funding to support the North Cascades Meat Producers Cooperative in its purchase of a mobile processing unit. This unit will be built by TriVan Truck Body of Ferndale, Washington and provide on-farm USDA inspected harvest for livestock producers located in Island, Skagit, Snohomish, and Island Counties.
The funds will come from the USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant program. This program’s purpose is to support rural economies and provide economic opportunities for agricultural producers. NABC serves as a USDA-designated Rural Cooperative Development Center with a similar purpose to improve rural economies through cooperative development. NABC has been providing technical assistance to support the meat cooperative’s organizational development and business start-up over the past three years.
The cooperative is partnering with Pat and Dawn Cairus, owners of Del Fox Meats, a processing company located in rural Snohomish County near Stanwood, WA. Del Fox Meats will provide contracted services to operate the mobile unit and will build a USDA inspected plant to process the harvested meat into finished products.
“Cooperatives provide a structure in which a group of producers can own and control the business. This can give the producers greater control over the costs of production as well as economies of scale for marketing and distribution of finished products,” states NABC Project Manager Jeff Voltz. Cooperatives also have the ability to authentically personalize market relationships. The producers are the owners and the faces of the business.
There are over a million people that reside in the counties where the 27 members of the North Cascades Producers Cooperative farm. Based on national consumption data provided by the USDA, we can reasonably estimate that the four-county population of Island, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom Counties consumed the equivalent of 140,000 beef cows, 300,000 hogs, and 28,000 lamb in 2012. More than 98% of this meat comes into these counties from outside of the Puget Sound region. There is currently a burgeoning market demand for locally produced products and a huge market opportunity for local meat production.”
Pasture-raised beef producer and North Cascades Meat Producer Cooperative member Sandy Matheson of Matheson Farms, Whatcom County comes from a family farming tradition. “Matheson Farms has been a part of our family for more than 50 years. During this time we have experienced the increasing crush of development throughout the region as well as intense consolidation in the beef industry. This combination has led to few options for processing and markets for the sale of our beef. It is heartening to see the strong and increasing public desire for locally produced meat and we believe that our cooperative effort could enable local producers to fulfill this new and growing demand.
Individually farmers don’t have the time or level of expertise to organize a multi-farmer owned organization or to figure out how to coordinate production and relationships with markets and institutions. That’s where NABC comes in and provides incredible value that can help us get organized, connect us to the market, and re-create many of the infrastructure needs that have disappeared from our region.”