By JOANNA DETZ/ecoRI News staff
The thing nobody tells you about being a small-scale livestock farmer is all the driving.
Ben Coerper, who operates Wild Harmony Farm, a USDA-certified organic farm in Exeter, R.I., can tell you all about the driving. He drives as far as Adams Farm in Athol, Mass., — a 2-hour drive each way — to have his animals slaughtered and butchered. During busy times, Coerper drives his animals every other week and picks up finished product during the weeks in between.
Sometimes, if Adams Farm is booked, he’ll drive three hours each way to Vermont. And if he wants his meat smoked, he drives to Meriden, Conn., where there's a USDA smokehouse.
Last year, Coerper had four cows and 80 pigs. This year, he has 120 pigs. Expanding his herd means more driving, which eats into his time and his farm's bottom line.
But Meatworks, a new USDA meat-processing facility in Westport, Mass., hopes to help southern New England livestock farmers like Coerper by offering a geographically convenient full-service processing facility with smokehouse, sausage-making, and butchering on site. Meatworks began taking pre-bookings this spring but is not yet open for processing.
The slaughterhouse, a project of the Livestock Institute of Southern New England (TLI), was born of the lack of slaughtering and processing options in southern New England, which TLI believes limited meat production in the region.
Andy Burnes, board president of TLI and, himself, a livestock farmer, sees Meatworks as providing a big boost to the local food movement.
“The local food movement is only growing, and meat, as a part of that local food system, has been lagging. ... The infrastructure for meat processing has not kept up with the demand.”
According to Burnes, Meatworks will process roughly 5,000 animals annually and will provide the highest animal-welfare and food-safety standards with full traceability of the product through the facility.
That last bit, traceability, is of great interest to Coerper, who plans to bring his animals Meatworks.
Before he began using Adams Farm, Coerper had been getting his meat processed in Rhode Island. But, because there was no all-in-one facility in the state, he had to drop his animals off in Johnston, at Rhode Island Beef and Veal to be slaughtered and pick up the finished product at Westerly Packing in Westerly.
Coerper said that often he would get the wrong animal or wrong animal parts back because the product was moving through two different facilities.
“In the past few years, a lot of Rhode Island farmers have been looking for another meat-processing option that would honor the hard work that the farmers are doing to produce a really great product," he said. “Our meat is what the customer sees. [Processing] is the only part of the entire process we have no control over, and so, if it’s not as just a high a quality as we raise the animals, it's not doing us justice."
Having a nearby facility that is aligned with his values and standards should help Wild Harmony Farm get its product to customers more efficiently and will certainly reduce Coerper's time on the road.