Buy Local vs Sustainability

Ag ButcherIf you have been following local news, (I know it’s difficult if you really want to know what’s going on) you may have heard some talk about a proposal for a new slaughterhouse in the county. Well, its true. Before you start seeing pictures of 1920’s Chicago shipping yards take a deep breath of our fresh sea air and relax.

Some folks here are attempting to get a permit for small slaughterhouse operations. Why? So that locally produced and processed meat products would be available in Whatcom County.
First you need to know, this is not just a local problem. Check out WillametteLive website for the article “Who cut the Meat?” Nate Rafn has an excellent article about the challenges in Oregon’s direct-to-consumer marketing channel. For those not directly involved in the Ag business let’s just say it is not as easy as you may think to get local products to local customers.

Here’s your quick Ag recent history lesson. While we were all busy shopping at our local grocery market, most did not realize the good beef prices were due to an Ag industry concentration that happpened due to improvements in technology. Imagine that, just like what happened as we have moved from land lines, to cell phone, to smart phones. Technology advances concentrated most of our meat packing into four big companies. This has left small ranchers and feeders unable to compete for on the hoof prices. It also left medium sized meat processors unable to compete for the packaged price and financially strapped to upgrade to new technologies. Not a good shift for smaller ranchers, farmers and feeders looking to sell their meat directly to the market segment interested in locally grown foods. We cannot deliver a local product at a good price point if we have to ship to one of the 4 big boys in packing and then drive it back home. That’s not sustainable.

Back to the here and now in Whatcom county, we have small ranches and farms with livestock to market and we have a strong market segment interest in locally grown foods but no modern local meat packing to bridge the gap. We need a small modern slaughter house in Whatcom County to improve our direct to consumer marketing channel.

Big slaughterhouses will not come to Whatcom County, technology and economics has already concentrated that market. This is a new need and will require thoughtful planning and permitting. Ag is a small voice in this community and could use some in-town support. Would you like to have access to locally grown and cut meat products here in Whatcom county?

Before you answer this think about Dan Murphy’s final comment in his opinion piece :
“At some point, struggling to stay in business turns into exiting from the business, and that’s not only bad news for those consumers willing to pay a premium for local foods, it is bad news for the smaller producers who are willing–but unable–to serve them.”

~ Lorraine Newman

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