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Slaughterhouse Blues

Petite Teton Farm, Yorkville — We're still here. The smoke has mostly cleared (at least it no longer looks dirty orange). 

It's back up to 95º for several days so the fear of fire hasn't diminished. Our ponds have shrunk, our wells are slow and the water tanks are very low (we count drops used), the ground is cracked and dry, and the hills are completely brown. We're hanging on awaiting rain which has not come since May. It's very scary to think that it may be another dry year but we will adjust.

I know I've talked about slaughter/butcher issues before, but with the supply chain meltdown that's occurring right now, the problems have just multiplied. Our closest slaughterhouse, two hours from us, closed to private farmers (most of them in the North Bay from SF to Mendocino) to focus on their own business providing USDA meat to the public. This forced all small farmers (some of whom are not small by our standards - hundreds of cattle, sheep, poultry, etc.) to find alternative USDA slaughter facilities all of which are at least a four hour drive from us and the other farmers. We all raise grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free animals, a time consuming and expensive endeavor, and taking them on a long twisting road trip to slaughter ruins the meat — as with humans, the stress hormones tighten and toughen it, and our hard work is for naught. Pigs are especially sensitive to travel; they are structurally closest to humans.

So, the two pigs we had ready for harvest in August had nowhere to go. We booked a professional to shoot them and take them to the butcher shop where we had a delivery date. Then the fires came and he didn't show. We booked another time with him and again he didn't show, this time not even returning our calls and we never heard from him again. 

As a result we lost our butchering appointment and had to scramble for another place. (Our first choice butcher is now booking into 2022!) We were lucky to find one; our next challenge was to find a shooter and a processor; butcher shops require the skin, guts, and feet be removed before accepting an animal. A neighbor stepped up to shoot them. (We have a photo of Steve and Juan taking "live" weight of one pig on our antique scale), and Aaron, our kitchen manager, Juan, our field boss, and I, expressed interest in gutting and skinning them. Another neighbor volunteered his deer skinning shed and offered to train us. He was the perfect teacher in the perfect place, but it was very hard work and not what we have time for in the future. Steve and I drove them to the butcher two days later and the meat is now in the freezer with a big "Not for Sale" sign on it because USDA requires both a USDA slaughter and an inspected butcher facility. We will continue to sell it off the farm, but will not sell it at farmers' market.

What we went through for two pigs is repeated on a much larger scale by all local meat producers, resulting in hugely higher prices, damaged meat, overbooked butcher shops with stressed workers, plus more pollution due to long drives. If people want to continue eating good local meat, none of the above makes any sense. 

We suggest you check out a couple of political actions that address the difficulties and inequities in meat world: the Prime Act (HR 2859) which allows animals to be slaughtered at a non-USDA facility if that facility is regulated by the state, and a move to require the USDA to change its regulations so only meat raised in the USA can carry the label “Product of USA,” unlike today.

On our end, we have become Founders of a meat cooperative, North Bay Rancher's Co-op (BARC), which is in the process of fundraising to buy a slaughterhouse right now. (Contact Sarah Silva of BARC's Fundraising Committee <sarah@greenstarfarm.com> if you are interested in donating.) We will not be picking up new piglets to raise until we are assured there is a USDA slaughterhouse to take them to.

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