The locavore movement, advocating consumption of locally produced foods, continues to grow. That’s good news for local farmers, but a big challenge is providing locally produced USDA-inspected meat and poultry, especially in urban areas. For consumers and livestock producers in the central Puget Sound region, the solution is a new state-of-the-art USDA-certified mobile meat-processing unit.
Cheryl Ouellette, aka Cheryl the Pig Lady, has built a strong local farming business in Pierce County primarily selling pork and poultry. But to have her livestock processed in an organically certified facility with U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection so that she can sell it wholesale or retail, she has had to truck animals to a facility in Sandy, Ore. That is time consuming and costly, making successful farming more challenging.
WSU Extension insights
While taking WSU Small Farms Program classes, Ouellette found that she wasn’t alone in struggling with the processing issue. She also learned about how WSU Extension had helped producers in San Juan County develop the state’s first USDA-certified mobile meat processing unit, as well as similar facilities in Stevens and Walla Walla counties.
When WSU Pierce County Extension helped organize the region’s first Agriculture Summit in 2007, the idea of pursuing a mobile facility for south Puget Sound surfaced. In early 2008 some 80 producers and stakeholders gathered to form the Meat Project Steering Committee. Later that year the Pierce Conservation District approved funding to develop the unit, and the project was underway.
The dream becomes reality
Fast forward to June 2009, when more than 100 people gathered at the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center to cut the ribbon and celebrate the shining new mobile processor.
The unit is owned by the conservation district and leased to the Puget Sound Meat Producers Cooperative, which Ouellette leads. It will go directly to members’ farms to provide humane on-farm slaughter, delivering the animal carcasses to a partnering cut-and-wrap facility. For consumers, that will mean increased availability of locally produced meats at better prices.
According to Ouellette, the 45-foot self-contained processing facility was literally built on the success of the state’s other mobile units.
“We looked at the three units that are out there, and pursued a hybrid,” she said. “We kept the good things, and tried to improve on things that didn’t work so well.”
Ouellette said that a major reason for customizing the unit was its use in an urbanized area.
“My farm is surrounded by multi-million dollar developments, and that’s good because it means our market is right here,” she said. “But we also have to work with that situation and that’s why this unit is entirely self-contained. We won’t leave anything behind but tire tracks.”
More to be done
Although the mobile unit is now fully functional Ouellette says more needs to be done, and she sees WSU Extension playing a key role.
“We need more livestock training, more training in working with the unit, marketing classes, and all kinds of stuff,” she said. “WSU has been there all the way through, and I see them as playing an important role as we get rolling.”