Friday, August 8, 2008

Erasing the Carbon Footprint

Last time I blogged about the service offered to hobby farmers by local meatcutters who have mobile slaughter units that travel to the farms and convert the animal on the hoof to rump roasts and hamburger in the freezer.

This is a boon to family economies in rural areas, but this service is offered only to non-commercial ventures. You cannot raise a herd of cattle and have the mobile slaughter unit come in and process meat that you hope to sell to a restaurant or grocery store, because meat sold to the public has to be processed in a facility that is inspected by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, and USDA inspectors don’t travel with small mobile slaughter units. They didn't until now, that is.

I live in western Washington State, a place that is green in more ways than one. In more arid areas, it takes several acres to sustain one cow, but in this verdant pasturage, you can easily sustain two cows per acre. Hundreds of small farms surround each community, and many of these farms are owned by people who are trying to make a living off of the land. They have found many niche markets, such as raising goats and making goat milk soap, raising lavender and herbs, cultivating berries for retail sale, or making cheese. These are all labor intensive, and the more second-job-friendly pursuit of raising beef has been unavailable because the nearest USDA slaughterhouse is too far away. Even if they could afford to truck their cattle that far, small farms often don’t meet the minimum number of cattle required to use the facility.

Enter the second ‘green’, the one that means environmentalism. Washington has always been in the earth friendly vanguard, and a small band of farmers in my area got to looking at the carbon footprint created by trucking cattle to a far off slaughterhouse and then trucking the meat back to local markets. If there were a way to have a USDA inspected mobile slaughter unit, this would do away with unnecessary carbon emissions. Even better, local markets would benefit from grass-fed beef, and more small farmers could utilize their fields by growing beef cattle.

According to Seattle Magazine, in 2002, a group of farmers in Skagit (my county) and Island Counties got together with USDA and set up just such a unit. There are now three in Washington serving small farmers. New Mexico and California followed suit, and in September 2007, according to this article, each of those states had one.

There’s another great article about the mobile slaughtering unit in the San Juan Islander. And, you can see a picture of it at the Lopez Community Land Trust newsletter.

This is a paradigm shift and an example of ingenuity at work to kill two birds—one economic, one environmental (not to mention the cows), with one stone.

Return to the Neighborhood

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