Farmstead Meatsmith: Mobile Butchery in Washington State | Civil Eats

Farmstead Meatsmith: Mobile Butchery in Washington State

When Brandon Sheard brings his knife across the throat of a sheep, his movements are swift and precise.  The sheep, lying calmly on her side in the pasture on which she has lived her whole life, gently closes her eyes.  Brandon rests his hand on her throat and offers a prayer of gratitude to affirm the sacrifice of her life.

Brandon and his wife Lauren are the proprietors of Farmstead Meatsmith, a small business on Vashon Island, WA, that provides the services of slaughter, butchery, and charcuterie to small farmers in the Puget Sound region, as well as classes in slaughter and butchery.

Operations like Farmstead Meatsmith are unusual in today’s highly concentrated system of industrial animal processing. For example, only four corporations process 84% of the beef raised in the United States. Smithfield Foods alone slaughters 100,000 pigs every day (Brandon slaughters three on a busy day). The effects of this concentration are widespread and result in the mistreatment of the animals, workers, farmers, the land, and the consumers.

While working for a small farm on Vashon three years ago, Brandon had a vision for an alternative approach that could serve the interests of all of the parties involved. Today, the business processes animals in small quantities, on the farms where they are reared, for the farmers’ use. It’s a seldom utilized model that involves traveling around the Puget Sound region with a mobile unit, outfitted to process a range of livestock and poultry.

The implementation of this seemingly simple model is actually deceptively complex, due primarily to the suite of regulations upheld by the state and US  Department of Agriculture (USDA).  In order to sell meat that one has processed, not only does that have to be carried out in certifiable facilities, which are extraordinarily expensive to outfit, but there must be a USDA-trained inspector on site for every slaughter and every animal that you process must be chemically evaluated for dangerous pathogens. (These are regulations primarily geared toward multimillion dollar, high-volume facilities owned and operated by multinational corporations).

In an effort to balance the idealism of their vision and the reality of regulation, Farmstead Meatsmith provides services rather than products. In other words, they do not (and cannot) sell meat. They exclusively slaughter and butcher, and as such there are fewer (though lamentably not nonexistent) regulations. Instead, the model they have found feasible to employ is to travel around the region with a mobile unit, outfitted to process a range of livestock and poultry.

There are significant benefits to the mobility of slaughter services; it alleviates the farmers of the need to truck their animals to larger facilities, gives them more control over how their animals are processed, and allows for virtually immediate delivery of their products. Furthermore, traveling to each farm allows Brandon and Lauren to get to know the farmers for whom they work, and forge relationships, not just invoices. After all, strong communities are integral to shifting our current industrialized agricultural system towards a more localized model.

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As one of the few businesses to employ the traveling processing model on their scale, Farmstead Meatsmith is actively reviving knowledge, in the form of traditional slaughter practices. They see it as part of their mission to share this nearly forgotten skill set to any and everyone who has the desire to learn.

That’s why they’re campaigning on Kickstarter to fund a web-based series of instructional butchery and cookery films. Each episode will focus on a traditional process or finished product—from curing (bacon, prosciutto and guanciale) to making blood sausage and head cheese—and will include explicit instructions in addition to history, anecdote and illustration to fully illuminate the rich stories of each process.

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Andrew Plotsky is an animal processor on Vashon Island, WA, who also produces media about farms and farmers. You can find more of his work at Read more >

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