The growing demand for locally raised, pasture-fed meat is confronted by a lack of high-quality, humane, and regional processing plants. Even the USDA has gotten involved in identifying where outreach is most needed, by helping to build or maintain local slaughtering facilities. The agency just released an updated version of slaughterhouse maps that target local processing establishments. (The re-release can be found here [PDF].) But well before this week’s map release, organizations like Glynwood set out to understand and assess the need for mobile slaughterhouse units in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Working since 2008 to address the obstacles that have prevented the construction of adequate facilities to serve small to mid-size farmers, the organization created a modular mobile slaughterhouse—their Modular Harvest System (MHS). Civil Eats spoke with Judy LaBelle, President of Glynwood, to find out more about the first and only modular mobile slaughterhouse in the U.S. Read more

In late April, a trio of Republican senators––John McCain (AZ), Saxby Chambliss (GA), and Pat Roberts (KS)––wrote an angry letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, debunking a recent USDA program called “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.” This initiative distributes grant money and loans with the goal of strengthening local food chains and linking consumers with farmers.

The Senators accuse USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan of diverting urgently needed funds from rural communities in favor of: 1) “specialty crops” (the government’s term for fruits, nuts, and vegetables, of which the USDA recommends each of us eat at least five servings a day); and 2) small growers and organic farmers (who the Senators stereotype as hobby producers “whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets.”) Read more

As supporters of sustainable food production, many of us know that finding an alternative to the industrial meat supply chain is difficult but by no means impossible.  For the typical sustainable meat buyer, when one thinks of local meat, he most likely pictures a ranch, and then a steak or pork chop.  Unless he is willing to do the work of slaughtering and processing the animal himself, his access to a local abattoir is as difficult to find as local beer without the brewery. This is the marketplace reality that many small-scale ranchers face today.

As the daughter of a former butcher, I recently asked myself how we got ourselves to large-scale meat processing and what our alternatives are. Read more

Of the 50 or so food and farm conferences I’ve attended in the last several years, the Drake Forum for America’s New Farmers: Policy Innovations & Opportunities held March 4-5 in Washington, D.C., rises to the top. Actual farmers — not just commodity crop growers but innovative “agripreneurs” like Xe Susane Moua from Minnesota and Rosanna Bauman from Kansas — got to tell the USDA what they needed to survive.

But were policymakers listening? Many of the invited speakers with a political row to hoe seemed to be concerned about one segment of farmers in particular. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack kicked off the conference with the message that to preserve and grow rural America, which is the heart and soul of this country, we need to stop thinking about big versus small and start thinking more inclusively. He shared the usual dismal statistics — the increased unemployment in these areas, the lower per-capita income, and how more than 57% of rural counties have shrunk. All to say, what we’ve been doing to conserve and grow rural America isn’t working. Read more