Monthly Archives: December 2010

Chicken Processing Is All the Rage

Thanks to CISA for including us in their newsletter! If you have more questions about chicken processing or are interested in renting the MPPU, email Sam (sanderson@comteam.org).
The part about the MPPU is below, and you can read the whole article here: http://www.buylocalfood.org/~buylocal/page.php?id=459
A (local) chicken in every pot
By Molly Sauvain, CISA Intern
Published in the December 2010 CISA Enewsletter
Lots of people want to eat locally grown food—and, luckily for us, more and more skilled people are interested in growing it for us—but sometimes there’s no good road between the farm and the table. Meat is a good example. Most eaters don’t want to receive a live, fully-feathered chicken or turkey, so selling these birds for meat requires slaughter and meat processing facilities. Governed by a complex array of federal and state regulations, these facilities are limited in Massachusetts and throughout the region. Luckily, the number of options is growing. Here, we introduce you to several local poultry farmers and explain the choices they’ve made about poultry slaughter and processing.
Ten years ago, the New England Small Farm Institute in Belchertown began developing a mobile poultry slaughterhouse (known as the MPPU, for Mobile Poultry Processing Unit). NESFI director Judy Gillan and Jennifer Hashley, Director of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project and poultry grower, spent years developing a prototype unit and gaining approval from multiple state, federal, and local agencies (through “home rule,” Massachusetts grants an unusual degree of oversight to local Boards of Health, which adds a layer of complication to mobile facilities). Although still considered a pilot project, the MPPU was used by 3 farmers during 2010, its 3rd year of full operation.
A second option is provided by a new USDA-inspected slaughterhouse, Westminster Meats, which opened in Vermont in late July 2010. USDA inspection allows farmers to sell meat across state lines and to sell it for resale, for example to a retailer. The only other USDA-inspected poultry slaughter facility in New England is privately owned and not open to the public.
Slaughterhouses provide a service needed by farmers. The kind of service the farm needs may vary depending on farm size, farm labor options, market outlets, and more. In the last two years, three new regional options for slaughter and meat processing have been created: the MPPU, Westminster Meats, and Adams Farm in Athol, which provides USDA inspection for livestock but not poultry. All three facilities find it challenging to cover all their costs and turn a profit. Yet farmers point out that these businesses, though valuable, don’t provide all of the services needed by all farm businesses.
Replacing some of the current global trade in food with more food grown closer to home requires creating the services, like slaughterhouses, that allow for local and regional processing and distribution, providing an infrastructure for local food. That infrastructure needs to be diverse, in order to serve the needs of varied farm businesses, but also able to cover its costs and turn a profit. There’s a role for consumers here: as demand rises, farmers can support a wider variety of infrastructure businesses.
“We’re now building a second-generation MPPU,” says Jennifer Hashley of NESFP. “Adding a second unit will alleviate some of the logistical and transportation challenges related to using one unit across the whole state.” As some of the businesses that have gotten started by using the MPPU grow, they may want to consider fixed-location or on-farm slaughter facilities, in order to avoid the scheduling and transportation requirements of the MPPU and to expand operations year-round. “It would be wonderful if the MPPU served the needs of start-up and small-scale businesses, and maturing businesses could move on to another option. But we don’t know if we can use the lessons learned from the MPPU to provide clear blueprints to farmers who want to build their own slaughter facilities. The regulatory agencies aren’t currently providing clear guidance to make this transition cost-effective,” says Hashley.
Mockingbird Farm:
What Pete Solis describes as “personality traits” translate nicely into the perks of the farming profession. He loves to work with good people, eat good food, and see progress at the end of the day. Mockingbird Farm may only be two years old, but it has a reputation for producing meat that tastes like the sweet grass and sunshine the animal grew up on. Pete raises chickens – Kosher Kings and Freedom Rangers, “because nobody else was doing it,” Hampshire pigs because, “they’re delicious. It’s hard to get good quality pork and I wanted to raise them the right way,” and a few Belted Galloway cows, “because I had pasture, and I like cows!” Walking around the farm it is abundantly clear that these animals are happy. You can see it in the way the pigs snuff around in the mud, trotting up to say hello as we approach their pen. You can hear it in the contented chirps and gobbles of turkeys roaming around together in the meadow. The chickens are pecking about in pasture pens, which allow them to graze under protection from hawks and other predators.
Since he started his farm, Pete has seen a tremendous surge in the interest and demand for local meat. His customers want to be consumers in a new way, which includes forming relationships with those who grow their food. Pete is at the Northampton Tuesday Farmers’ Market each week, and is excited to see meat CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture farms) popping up in the Valley.
Pete knows that it can be difficult not just financially but psychologically to pay $6 a pound for chicken when it costs much less at the grocery store. “The big poultry companies do a really good job of cutting every conceivable cost.” Despite this, Pete has no lack of customers for his free-range birds. His customers are concerned about how meat animals in this country are treated and want to support an alternative. If not for that, he concludes, “none of this would be possible.” After all, the price he charges isn’t arbitrary or meant to take advantage of well-off customers. Instead, it reflects exactly the amount of money that goes into raising the birds. Pete tells me that his main expense is organic feed.
Mockingbird Farm is currently the only farm in Western Mass that uses the MPPU. A farmer must be licensed to use the MPPU to slaughter their birds, a process that involves several days of trainings on the rules and regulations and site visits from multiple department and boards of health. Renting the unit costs $200. Pete relies on an enthusiastic bunch of friends, interested strangers and customers, who volunteer their time on processing day. “It’s cool – a neat experience. The volunteers have a good time and we have the hands we need to process the birds,” he says. Pete chooses to use the MPPU because it allows him to process on-site, avoiding the stress of travel for the birds. “It’s better for the animal and results in better tasting meat,” he explains. He has enough birds that it makes financial sense as well. “You need to process at least 150 birds to make it worthwhile. It averages about $2 per bird using the MPPU, which is a better price even with the licensing fees for me because it costs $5 a bird at the Vermont facilities, plus transportation.”
The bottom line? The MPPU allows Pete to provide his customers with locally-grown meat that has not been stressed by travel before slaughter. As we walk around the farm, Pete with his toddler son on his back and me with my camera out in an attempt to capture the charm of the place, it’s hard not to wish all animals were raised this way. So despite the challenges, there is excitement. Local meat, says Pete, predicting what’s to come, “has a great and necessary future here in the Valley.”
Full article: http://www.buylocalfood.org/~buylocal/page.php?id=459

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