Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Field trip to the mobile slaughterhouse

Meat, potato, and veg. A rather boring trifecta that makes up the backbone of many Americans' diets, and once made up mine. But what if that meat on the plate was grass-fed and sustainably raised? and the potato and veg were organically grown? Well, now were talking about a whole new meal. Packed with flavors, texture, and a whole lotta love.

The meat part, sustainably raised, has been for me, the hardest to come by. Depending on where you live it can be quite challenging to find grass-fed, local meat, and when you do, it is often prohibitively expensive. Right now, the consumer demand for sustainably raised meat is out pacing the supply. If you picture a hour glass with farmers at the top and consumers at the bottom, the middle is the infrastructure, or lack thereof, slowing everything down. Slaughtering and processing (the act of killing and breaking the animal down into its neat little parts) may not be sexy or even appetizing to contemplate, but its crucial. And here in New York, and all over the US, there is severe shortage of those facilities. Without USDA inspected facilities, meat cannot be sold to the public.

However, the cries for more slaughterhouses have not gone unheard. In 2008, Glynwood created a task force to address this issue. Fast forward to the spring of 2010 and the Modular Harvest System (MHS) was opening its doors for operation in Delaware County. The MHS is dubbed the next generation mobile slaughterhouse by Glynwood. To read more about the Modular Harvest System check out Glynwood's Blog, The Glynwood View.

Last Friday Lise, Dayna, and I hustled to finish our morning harvest so we could hop in the car and drive 125 miles to tour the MHS. I have been curious to see the set-up since I started reading about mobile slaughtering units this past spring. The last hour of the drive the scenery can be summed up as farm after farm with their dilapidated buildings set amongst a backdrop of green rolling mountains. This is real country.

We pulled into a vacant lot in front of a building with a sign that read Eklund Farm Machinery. The first docking site for the Modular Harvest System is located on the Eklunds property, a family that raises dairy cows among other things. Four white trailers make up the MHS and were parked in the yard. They looked rather unremarkable and provided no clue to what goes on inside. We stepped inside one of the trailers. The son, of the Eklund family, explained to us the process. The cow is led inside the chute and stunned, hooked, and bled out, it moves along on a rail system and is trimmed of its hide, split in half with a saw, and then the sides hang to cool in another trailer. A third trailer is used to store the meat after its reached proper temperature and the contents are hauled away to the nearest processing facility to be broken down into steaks, burgers, and what not. The whole process of killing and breaking the animal down can take about an hour, they kill about ten animals a day, and they are operating only one day a week under USDA inspection.

The hope is that in the future, more farms throughout the Hudson Valley will build docking sites so that the MHS can move around to different areas, and stay for a week or a month. Having a slaughterhouse nearby saves farmers time and money, they no longer have to drive long distances or wait 6 months or more to book a kill slot.

The lack of infrastructure is a complicated issue but a very important one. Consumers and farmers are counting on its success. I may never be a meat and potatoes person, but when I do eat meat I want to know it was humanely and sustainably raised, and I would like to have the option to make that choice.

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