Mobile meat processing options

Allison Rian and Jim Chamberlin (at left) lead discussions with meat producers at a recent meeting.

Jim Chamberlin and Allison Rian, sustainability managers at Happy Dancing Turtle (HDT) in Pine River, invited meat producers from around the region to come and discuss their needs for local inspected meat processing infrastructure, specifically mobile meat processing (slaughter) units.

“Growing markets for locally produced meats are being constrained by the lack of nearby state-inspected slaughter facilities,” said Chamberlin. “Opportunities are being lost that could help local farm and ranch businesses be more profitable.”

Midge Johnson from Nord Lake Rabbitry and Lynn Mizner from Chengwatana Farm travelled from Aitkin to attend the meeting, the purpose of which was to gauge community interest and solidify understanding of HDT’s role moving forward.

Chamberlin gave a presentation about a business plan that HDT staff had developed as part of Financial Resiliency Through Social Enterprise training offered by the Initiative Foundation. Chamberlin said the development of the business plan relied heavily on information gleaned from a 2017 study funded by the Regional Sustainable Development Partnership and conducted by Cass County Farm Bureau. The document is called Cows for Clean Water. It recommended a number of key factors for success, such as adding value to commodities in the marketplace and forming cooperatives to do marketing and branding. Research done by the Cows for Clean water group provided some of the information that was used in the development of the mobile slaughter unit business plan.

Chamberlin and Rian also reported to the group about results from a Little Falls group consisting of producers, business owners, government agency staff and nonprofits that formed to explore solutions for local meat processing. The group conducted a feasibility study and determined that a facility might not be viable, but acknowledged that there is a need. The Little Falls Group continues to meet and explore joint marketing and branding options, including combined hauling from northern producers to Northfield for processing. The group estimates the cost to start up a mobile slaughter facility to be around $2 million.

Rian facilitated a lively discussion among the half dozen meat producers who were gathered at HDT. Questions such as, “What would it take for you to sell into more local markets?” shed some light on issues such as distances to processing facilities and the insufficient number of State of Minnesota meat inspectors.

Beef producer Mike Sams is the chair of Cass County Farm Bureau and an instructor at the Central Lakes College Staples Campus.  Sams suggested that producers get involved with their local Farm Bureau chapters and engage in the resolution process.  Chapter resolutions tend to have a lot of energy and get attention at the state level.

A second meeting to discuss meat processing is planned for mid June. If local producers want to be involved in future discussions, Allison Rian can be contacted at arian@hugllc.com.

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