Save A report was conducted recently on mobile slaughter houses, their market potential and the food safety issues involved.
Towed behind a Ford F-250 pickup, Island Grown Initiative’s mobile poultry-slaughtering unit is on the move in Martha’s Vineyard, ready to feed the growing appetite for locally raised products on the Massachusetts island best known as a vacation playground for the Kennedys.
Without that unit, some would not be able to farm. Those who tend small flocks on the north side of the island and provide fresh chicken to local restaurants.
While fruit and vegetable growers can often handle their own harvest needs, livestock requires slaughter — a messy business that could be unwelcome in affluent communities, where demand for locally produced food is highest. Enter Island Grown, a nonprofit formed by Munroe and others that comes to the farm to slaughter, scald and pluck.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 20 mobile units are in operation around the country. Units from Texas to Alaska butcher birds, cows, pigs and other animals as the market for locally produced food has grown from a beachhead of hippie co-ops and health-food stores to Whole Foods Market Inc.,Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co.
“Mobile slaughter is crucial” to building local and regional food systems, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview. “It’s still a relatively small piece of agriculture, but what I like about it is it offers local opportunities. You don’t have to be a large operator, or a production-sized operator, to get into this business.”
The department expects the number of units to grow and has provided financial assistance to at least four in the past half-decade. Along with $17 million in aid to the local-meat sector since 2009, the department has given advice on feasibility and technical assistance. Island Grown received $9,300 from the USDA for education and promotion.
The number of farmers engaged in local-foods sales rose 24 percent to 144,530 in 2012 from a decade earlier, according to an agriculture department census released in May. That growth took place even as the total number of producers fell 0.9 percent to 2.11 million in the same period.
A consolidation of agriculture has squeezed out smaller slaughterhouses that could profitably serve alternative producers. Bigger facilities, which offer economies of scale and advantages in waste handling, can be out of place in upscale areas such as Martha’s Vineyard, 70 miles (113 kilometers) south of Boston.
Farmers outside Seattle were early adopters of mobile slaughtering more than a decade ago. Roving units have processed lambs and goats in California, buffalo in Nebraska, elk and boar in Texas, and turkeys, pheasants and quail in Kentucky. A unit in Nome, Alaska, slaughters reindeer.
Local-foods businesses tend to work best near cities, wherepricey farmland and affluent consumers create incentives for high-value rather than commodity-based farming.
As farms have grown larger and food processing has become more centralized, infrastructure needed to make small operations work has deteriorated, in some cases keeping a market from emerging.
You had less demand for smaller facilities. You also had more concern with food safety, with larger businesses better able to absorb regulatory costs.
The USDA inspects red meat and poultry sold across state borders. Food produced for consumption in-state is typically inspected by that jurisdiction and must meet federal standards.
Safety is a priority no matter the size of the operation. One thing that could damage the potential of this market is any sort of food-safety problem.
Island Grown started in 2007 as a way to jumpstart a local-poultry industry on Martha’s Vineyard — overcoming the same barriers alternative-foods entrepreneurs across the U.S. face in a food system that isn’t designed for them.
Dripping with affluence — median home prices in the first quarter of this year were $655,000 for Martha’s Vineyard, compared with $305,000 for Massachusetts — the island supports a number of upscale restaurants and fresh-food markets.
Vineyard-killed chicken can sell for twice the standard grocery-store price, said a local-source restaurant in Vineyard Haven, a town on the island. The BBQ pulled-chicken plate, in some cases from birds that two days earlier were wandering across the street, is a popular item.
Government policy, now overweighted in favor of large growers of corn, wheat and soybeans, should do more to encourage such local entrepreneurs.
The goal of government policy isn’t to support food. It’s to support commodities that can be traded. Grants for local foods are a subsidy to combat the effects of a bigger subsidy somewhere else.
The USDA supports all forms of agriculture, offering technical assistance to small producers and more tailored programs through the farm bill that passed Congress earlier this year.
As the market expands, Vineyard growers have started raising money to build a permanent slaughter facility on the island that could handle four-legged animals, including cattle and sheep along with chickens. That will cost about $800,000 and process red meat as well as poultry during the summer.
Residents have voiced concern about the effect of a slaughterhouse on noise, smell and property values. Island Grown plans to locate the operation as far from neighbors as possible and will enclose the composting unit and possibly cover the slaughter yard.
Source: bloomberg.com, 7-22-2014