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If you build it, they will come; Infrastructure for a local farm/food system

October 16, 2013

Last week’s ground breaking in Liberty, NY for a red-meat processing facility is an important step forward for the economic development of agriculture in Sullivan County and a contribution toward building a more sustainable local food system.

For decades, the trend in livestock production in the U.S. has been toward ever-bigger farms and ever-larger slaughterhouses. (Today the top four food corporations in the U.S. supply 80% of the meat we eat from factories that process thousands of animals daily on huge killing, cutting and packaging floors.) This industry consolidation has left small, rural farms with few outlets to have their livestock slaughtered. Keep in mind, too, that a farmer must use a USDA-certified slaughterhouse in order to sell at retail, where he or she can potentially get better prices.

With the dearth of slaughterhouses, small farms like those we have here in the Upper Delaware River Region, faced increasing difficulty in getting an appointment to butcher livestock. It’s easy to see how this lack of infrastructure locally presented an obstacle to growing the size of the farmer’s herd, in turn creating a roadblock between the farmer and access to the marketplace, thereby limiting a farm’s ability to grow and increase profitability. Take especially the case of beef farmers, where there are even fewer outlets because the size of the animals presents special needs for butchering them. Currently, beef producers frequently have to wait weeks or even months for a scheduled date with the butcher, or they have to haul their livestock long distances to be processed.

The good news is that in our rural region, we have vast unused potential for raising livestock (and for other forms of farming). We have an abundance of fields and pastureland, the first critical “infrastructure” for a viable food system. In addition, our farms are strategically located within a few hours’ drive of 20% of the U.S. population, where consumer demand for agricultural products from local farmers has been growing steadily.