A group of Pacific Northwest farmers had a problem. Consumers in their region wanted healthy, pasture-raised meat from farmers they trusted. The farmers nurtured their animals, cared about their meat products, and wanted to take them to market within their communities. While the demand for locally-raised and harvested meat was ballooning, the farmers lacked an ecosystem for effectively processing meat on-farm for their neighbors.
Historically, the farmers had their meat processed at faraway slaughter facilities. After working hard to breed and raise their animals, they endured rising costs and valuable time to transport them to outside slaughterhouses for processing. This disrupted their ability to deliver meat from farm to table. In the process, the farmers sacrificed animal accountability, quality control, and fair pricing.
In 2011, they banded together to form North Cascade Meat Producers Cooperative (NCMPC). As a farmer-owned and operated co-op, they combined their supply of animals to fulfill the meat production needs of four Northwest Washington counties and garner large purchase contracts.
As an organization, the co-op applied for a federal grant through the USDA Rural Business Development Grants program. After receiving funding, they combined it with their start-up capital to purchase a movable, self-contained, and USDA-approved Mobile Meat Harvest Unit. Owners Pat and Dawn Cairus of Del Fox Meats, a trusted full-service butcher in Stanwood, Washington, partnered with the co-op to provide contracted services to operate the Mobile Meat Harvest Unit.
The 36-foot mobile trailer, transportable from farm-to-farm by a truck, came to service the needs of the co-op’s nearly 40 farmers. Together, they cast off the need for outside processors. The farmers gained improved quality control and profit margins, reduced transportation costs, and lessened the variability and stress of scheduling with off-site processing facilities.
Through their co-op, the farmers took control of their meat processing without building a costly brick-and-mortar slaughter facility. A link in the local farm-to-table chain had been broken and the farmers restored it — for their animals, customers, farms, and the environment.