Getting To The Meat: Survival and Supply

If you've heard panicky reports about a shortage of ground beef (or any meat) because of plant closures due to COVID-19, just remember that those reports refer to places where factory-farmed animals are slaughtered in mind-boggling numbers on industrial-scale production lines. The alternative can be found right here in our own back yard, from ranchers dedicated to improving their soil, raising animals on pasture and treating them humanely, not to mention sequestering carbon in the soil, building rural communities and a vibrant, resilient local food system. Cory Carman of Carman Ranch in Wallowa, Oregon, wrote the following in a recent newsletter.

It’s hard to miss the headlines about meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses closing throughout the country. At least 48 plants have reported cases of COVID-19, and 2,200 workers are infected. Beef production alone is down 20 percent since this time last year, and commodity prices continue to increase. At the same time, cattle prices are the lowest they’ve been in a decade.

If you’re interested in what’s happening in large-scale meatpacking plants, USA Today, the New York Times and Civil Eats have great coverage. But rather than speculate about whether we'll see a meat shortage on retail shelves, or if plants will choose to stay open and continue to put workers at risk, I want to highlight what we do know: our own plant.

To build a supply chain of like-minded folks who share our values and vision for the future has always been key to Carman Ranch's mission. That supply chain begins with our producer group and ends with our customers. In between, there are a handful of key players, one of which is Kalapooia Grassfed Processing, a family-owned processing plant in Brownsville, Oregon.

Kalapooia has nearly perfect marks on its annual food safety audits, and on a comprehensive animal welfare audit. Built by Reed Anderson (right, center) to process his own Anderson Ranch lambs, Reed also processes cattle for a few companies, including Carman Ranch. Reed’s son Travis oversees day-to-day operations, and I’ve worked with Pete, Kalapooia's plant manager, for over a decade. The Andersons think of their processing plant as a family business, an ethos that extends to include their staff and customers. Anderson Ranch employs fewer than 50 people, and they took the safety of their workers seriously early on in the COVID outbreak, in part because Pete and Travis work side-by side on the line with their employees. They already required protective clothing, and their small size allowed them to create distancing more easily and effectively than larger plants.  

We’ve harvested our animals at Kalapooia 50 weeks a year for the last three years. At a time when many meat companies have had to shut down, or are nervous about supply, we continue to be confident and proud of our partnership with the Andersons.

As we move through this crisis, we’re learning more about the vulnerabilities in our incumbent systems. Affordability in food is important, but saving a few dimes can come at a cost none of us should have to shoulder, including our own health and safety. Across the country, those costs are now coming to light.  

I won’t pretend our beef is cheap. But when you factor in the positive effects on the climate, community and supply chain that your purchase supports, it becomes an important investment. And, when you subscribe to our philosophy of smaller portion sizes with tons of flavor and nutrition, the dividends on that investment become immeasurable.

The final benefit? We can give our customers the same peace of mind we find in knowing that we'll keep working with partners like Reed Anderson and Kalapooia to provide nourishing food, regardless of how the headlines around large-scale meatpacking plants play out.

Get a guide to buying meat, eggs and dairy from certified pasture-based Oregon farmers and ranchers.

Read my interview with Cory Carman about why she chose to raise her animals on pasture, and how she sees it as a vital tool in reversing climate change and building a more resilient and vibrant local food system.

Read about Revel Meat Company, a processing facility that serves small to mid-sized Oregon farmers and ranchers and provides markets for their products.

How an Oregon Rancher is Building Soil Health and a Robust Regional Food System

This is my second contribution to Civil Eats' monthly series of profiles of farmers and ranchers who are changing our food system for the benefit of our communities, our health and the environment.

Fourth-generation rancher Cory Carman
holistically manages 5,000-acres
which serve as a model for sustainable meat operations
in the Pacific Northwest.

When Cory Carman returned in 2003 to her family’s ranch in remote Wallowa County in eastern Oregon with a Stanford degree in public policy in hand and a stint on Capitol Hill under her belt, her intention was to stay for the summer, helping her uncle and grandmother with ranch work while she looked for her next job working on public policy. By that fall, though, it was obvious that if she left, the ranch wouldn’t be there for her to come back to.

“They were the only ones left on the ranch,” she said, recalling the heartbreaking specter of how hard her uncle and her grandmother, who was then in her 80s, had to work to barely scrape by. “I think I felt the weight of what they were trying to hold together, and I thought how unfair it was for me to expect that they could just keep it together until I came back someday.”

So she decided to stay.

Carman Ranch began as a few hundred acres Carman’s great-great-grandfather Jacob Weinhard—nephew to the legendary Northwest beer brewer Henry Weinhard—bought for his son Fritz in the early 1900s. Under Carman’s watch, the operation now spans 5,000 acres of grasslands, timbered rangeland, and irrigated valley ground nestled against the dramatic peaks of the Wallowa Mountains. Hawks, eagles, and wildlife greatly outnumber people in this isolated northeastern corner of the state, originally home to the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of the Nez Perce tribe.

Distinct from most cattle operations in the U.S., Carman’s cattle are 100 percent grass-fed well as grass-finished. (The term “grass-fed” is not regulated, so it can mean that animals have only been briefly pastured before they’re sent to a factory feedlot to be finished.) The ranch primarily produces cattle and pigs, which it mostly markets to wholesale accounts, though it sells a lesser amount of meat as “cow shares”—or quarters of beef ranging from 120 to 180 pounds purchased directly by consumers.

Equally if not more important to Carman, however, is the focus on what she calls the “holistic management” of her land. This involves constantly moving the cattle and paying careful attention to the rate of growth of the animals and grasses. By this system, the steers select the forages they need to grow and gain weight, and the grasses get clipped, trampled down, and fertilized with manure, resulting in fields that are vibrant—they retain water, resist drought, contain abundant organic matter, which contributes nutrients and carbon, and are highly productive without the addition of fertilizer.

Amanda Oborne, vice president of food and farms at Ecotrust, a regional nonprofit organization working on social, economic, and environmental issues, said Carman inspired Ecotrust’s food system work by helping her understand the challenges of creating local beef and pork markets, the complexity of scaling an agricultural business with integrity, and the importance of grasslands and large grazing animals in fighting climate change through carbon drawdown.

Oborne remembers Carman walking her around the fields of the Zumwalt Prairie, a preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy that is on the western boundary of the ranch, and picking at blades of bunch grass as she explained how the native species create pockets of nutrition for migrating birds through the winter, and how the long, perennial roots scaffold a whole cathedral of structure and life under the soil.

“It’s Cory’s ability to tell these stories, to explain the flaws of the dominant system without imbuing judgement or animosity, and to partner across every divide—be it age, gender, class, political philosophy, or hometown—that makes her such an effective and innovative thought leader,” Oborne said.

Introducing Holistic Management

Within a year of returning to the ranch, Carman met and married her husband, Dave Flynn (the couple have since divorced), and started a family, which includes three children, Roan and twins Ione and Emmett.

With a fifth generation of the family living on the ranch, the challenge became not just figuring out how to maintain her family’s business and regenerate the land, but how to leave a viable legacy to pass on to her children.

“You don’t have a ranch so that you can sell it and retire; you have a ranch so you can pass it on—that’s sort of in the DNA,” Carman said. “It’s what gets priority, and [you] grow up knowing that there’s something more important than all of you as individuals.”

While Carman respects her family’s history and that of her neighbors, she is pursuing the inverse of the methods used on most of the nation’s cattle ranches since the middle of the last century—methods also used by her father, who died in a ranching accident when Carman was 14, and by her uncle who took over.

“It was the fertilizer era,” Carman noted of her uncle’s initial resistance to the idea of leaving forage in the pastures. “It’s like in those first few decades when fertilizer worked really, really well. You could just take everything off of the land that you could possibly grow and sell it—and then pour more fertilizer back on. And it worked. Until it didn’t.”

With an eye toward her legacy, Carman went to her uncle with the idea of raising grass-fed beef. “I will never forget what he told me,” she said. “He said, ‘Why don’t you do something people like? What about jerky?’”

The thing that she knew—and that her uncle didn’t—was that there were people in more urban areas who were willing to pay a premium for healthy food. “He had no context,” Carman said. “It’s a paradigm shift.”

Read the rest of the article to find out how Carman has begun to build a robust regional food economy with beef as the elegant nexus of the issues.

Read more of my articles for Civil Eats, including a profile of dairy farmer Jon Bansen, and an examination of the damage that factory farm dairies have done to communities in Oregon and around the country. Photos of Cory Carman copyright Nolan Calisch; photos of cattle and sign by John Valls; used courtesy of Carman Ranch.

Meat of the Matter: Upending the Status Quo

This series looks at how one small processor, Marks Meats in Canby, is transitioning from the founding owner-operators to a new generation of ownership under the name Revel Meat Company. This post was developed in collaboration with Old Salt Marketplace, a supporter of Good Stuff NW.

"The first thing to note about Ben Meyer is not his polite Midwestern manners, his oh-so-Portland uniform of stocking cap, flannel shirt and scruffy beard or that he's opened two restaurants in what were then—and still are, to some extent —underserved areas of the city. It's not even that he's been interviewed by the likes of Forbes and the Wall Street Journal wanting to hear about the local pasture-raised beef and pork he features on his menus. The key to Meyer is that this evangelist for whole animal butchery, whose walk-in is chock-full of large cuts of dry-aged beef, spent 10 years as a vegan."

Planning the day's work.

Since the time I wrote those words three years ago for the Oregonian, the scruffy beard has come and gone (and come and gone again), the stocking cap and flannel shirt can vary with the season and his two restaurants are still putting out luscious plates of grass-fed meat and farm-raised vegetables. And this former vegan-turned-omnivore is still intent on upending a system he sees as intrinsically unhealthy for his family, his community and the environment.

"I always say that Old Salt and Grain & Gristle are a food system," Meyer said. "We buy raw ingredients from people and we turn them into all the products that we use, [like] grains that are custom-milled to turn into the breads and contract tomatoes where I give the seed to the farmer and they grow it out for us."

But in his latest venture he's diving deeper into the stream that our food travels in getting from the field to our plates. With partners Jimmy Serlin and Ryan Ramage, his Revel Meat Company is attempting to bring local meat back to local tables, in the process revitalizing a nearly extinct local meat processing industry that enables small farmers to bring their animals to a market hungry for the kind of meat they raise.

Bringing local meat to market.

In the spirit of upending the status quo they tossed around the idea of calling their venture Revolution Meat, or saluting the history of Marks by calling it High Mark Meat, but then Serlin suggested Revel Meat for what he thought of as a gustatory celebration of the best the region had to offer. The name stuck.

An unusual part of this new venture is that Meyer isn't just branding all the meat they process under the Revel Meat banner, regardless of the source. According to a 2015 article, discussing the practice of "localwashing," many large processors, like Carlton Farms in Oregon, buy animals from Canada or elsewhere, bring them to their facility for slaughter and processing, then brand the products with their name. Meyer's plan for Revel Meat is to have the name of the ranch or farm that raised the animals follow the product, whether it ends up as hamburger or sausage or charcuterie, all the way to the consumer.\

"My whole goal with all food is getting rid of the smoke and mirrors,"  he said. "We want to make sure that if somebody’s buying it, they know who they’re buying it from, the name of the ranch and where it is. We’re not going to co-brand it; it’s not just going be Revel Meat pork, it’s going to be Payne Family Farms pork delivered by Revel Meat."

Jimmy Serlin, co-owner of Revel Meat.

Since Meyer and Serlin are both chefs, they are intimately connected to Portland's restaurant community and have already begun wholesaling their meat products like sausages to some of the city's restaurants. But entering the wholesale business has meant adding layers of complexity to an already complicated process.

In the normal course of running his restaurants, Meyer said, he would talk to his ranchers a week ahead for pork and two weeks or more for beef so that the animals would be in the pipeline to go to the processor. They would then hang for two to three weeks, after which he would butcher and process them for his menus.

With wholesaling, not only does he need to have pork in hand to make the sausage in time to get it to restaurant chefs for their menu, he said, "I now have to plan weeks out to make sure that we have pigs lined up to get them killed, cleaned, hung up, turned into sausage, packaged, labeled and then driven up to the city. It’s just a whole other layer back."

As if that wasn't enough, the partners are adding animal husbandry into the mix, raising their own animals on two parcels of land near the facility. It means working not weeks or months, but years out, he said, with animals on the ground that are slated to come through their process two years from now.

Helping local producers thrive.

But even with intimidatingly steep learning curves on multiple fronts, this former vegan never wants to forget that he is responsible for taking the life of a living creature.

"My biggest fear is that you would become callous and not care," Meyer said. It's why he chose to take on the challenge of revitalizing a medium-sized, locally owned slaughterhouse that would serve small farmers and ranchers, rather than scaling up to operate at the same volumes as larger processors.

"You can imagine the level of care when you’re killing 340 head an hour on five different lines," he said. "That’s stunning an animal every 3.2 seconds or something. That is factory work where the cog happens to be a living creature. That is the most mortifying part to me."

"No matter how much love or care you put into the raising of an animal, if that’s how it finishes its life, you’ve broken that covenant with the animal," he added. "That covenant is the most important thing for us. If you break your part of the covenant, then we’re asking that species, this pig or that beef or these sheep or goats, to keep their end without us keeping ours. It’s not fair."

Read the other posts in this series, Rejuvenating Local Processing and Transitioning a Family Business.

Photos by Rich Crowder.

Meat of the Matter: Transitioning a Family Business

This series looks at how one small processor, Marks Meats in Canby, is transitioning from the founding owner-operators to a new generation of ownership under the name Revel Meat Company. This post was developed in collaboration with Old Salt Marketplace, a supporter of Good Stuff NW.

Floyd Marks opened Marks Meats on South Mulino Road in Canby, Oregon, in 1963. His daughter, Kris, who was a very young child at the time, still remembers the opening party in the brand new slaughterhouse. The band was set up on a platform over the drain where the animals were hung to bleed out, with the dance floor in the middle of the kill floor. Originally solely a slaughterhouse, Floyd designed the compact footprint of the facility to maximize efficiency and, as the business expanded, to accommodate an on-site processing facility to make sausages, bacon and smoked meats.

Floyd and Martha Marks (c. 1975).

In the mid-1970s, when their mother decided it was time to think about retiring from the business, she asked Kris (top photo, on the kill floor) and her sister Judy if they'd be interested in stepping in, Judy working with the animals on the kill floor and Kris managing the new processing side. By this time Kris had married her husband, Joe Akin, and they were the parents of two young children. As a teenager, Joe had applied for a job at the plant and, like Jimmy Serlin would many years later, he found his calling working there.

With the daughters' agreeing to the arrangement, their father retired and turned the business over to Judy and Kris. When I expressed surprise that a slaughterhouse might be run by two young women, she reminded me that in many old farm families it was not unusual for the women to do the butchering.


"Dealing with the animals that you raise and the vegetables
that you raise and processing them all the way through,
it wasn't something foreign to us."


"If you grew up on a farm, you also did that as part of it," she said. "Dealing with the animals that you raise and the vegetables that you raise and processing them all the way through, it wasn't something that was foreign to us."

Judy eventually left the business, and Joe took over running the kill floor while Kris worked on the processing side and took care of the immense amount of record-keeping required for the facility's Federal Grant of Inspection from the USDA. The grant allowed the business to slaughter and butcher animals, and involved a difficult and costly approval process, one that guarantees that procedures are in place to ensure that the meat it sells is safe and inspected before, during and after slaughter.

Processing room at Marks Meats
(c. 1975).

Around ten years ago it became difficult for Kris and Joe to find trained, competent help in the slaughterhouse, so Kris stepped onto the floor to work alongside her husband. While he did the stunning—essentially rendering the animals brain-dead—at the height of their production they managed a schedule that rotated through 30 beef in a day, and other days processed 24 to 30 pigs or 75 or 80 lambs, a crushing amount of output for a small facility.

Approaching retirement age, they both knew that this kind of heavy production schedule was unsustainable, so Kris began to put the word out that Marks was looking for a buyer. An attractive prospect, the business drew several inquiries because of its up-to-date plant and that all-important grant of inspection, not to mention its accessibility to both area farms and a Portland customer base. But none had quite the right combination of factors required for a transition of ownership that would take several years to complete.

Enter Jimmy and the young crew of food revolutionaries from Let Um Eat who had bought a farm down the road and, driving by one day, saw a sign outside advertising a sale on steaks.

The young people were just customers at first, but the sudden departure of an employee left Kris short-handed, so she asked if they knew of anyone who might be be interested in helping out.

"Then Jimmy showed up because he was interested in learning what we did," Kris said, though it was obvious from the get-go that he had no idea what an immensely physical job it was. "It’s like working out at the gym for eight to ten hours. He was on the kill floor, doing skinning and pushing and pulling and different movements that you don’t normally do."

For Jimmy’s part, he said, ”I didn’t realize how excited I was about it till I started.” When his own father passed away a few weeks into his stint at Marks, a particularly heartfelt conversation with Kris and Joe about her father and the beginnings of Marks cemented his decision. "It became clear that it was something I’d wanted to do for awhile [but] I never really thought about it," he said. "Being there, I think it keeps me in line with with what my old man did."


"We’d been doing this for a long time and
physically we needed to have younger people do it
in order to keep the business running."


Kris remembers that fairly soon after he started, Jimmy said he was looking for something more permanent than simply being an employee.

"He wanted to know more about the business and possibly join us in some capacity," she said. "And we were wanting to get out. We’d been doing this for a long time and physically we needed to have younger people do it in order to keep the business running."

The key phrase Jimmy got from his conversation with Kris? "If you’re interested, let’s talk."

Marks Meats (c. 1975).

At that point, as far as he was concerned, the decision was made. "How can we can we all talk about Let Um Eat and the collective and not take the opportunity to take over one of the most crucial pieces to the small farm and sustainable food movement?" he remembers thinking.

The other members of the collective, however, were not on board with making that kind of long-term commitment. Or as Jimmy said, "They were like, haha, we have a thousand other things going on."

Knowing he couldn't do it alone, however, meant that he needed to find partners who could bring additional skill sets to the table. He approached Ben Meyer, who was already working with local ranchers and farmers on a whole animal program for his Portland restaurants Old Salt Marketplace and Grain & Gristle. Bringing butchery, merchandising, retailing and processing expertise, Meyer was the perfect fit. To complete the team, Meyer brought in cattle rancher Ryan Ramage of Ramage Farm in Oregon City.

Meyer had already identified that it was critical to keep Oregon's surviving small processors alive, as well as the need to add more. Crucial to this was figuring out the stumbling blocks faced by existing processors, which had been steadily closing since the '70s. "Every one we lose is another opportunity for a small rancher to process," he said. So when Jimmy presented him with the opportunity to buy Marks, he recalled, "I immediately said we need to at least talk about it."


"[Handling the physical aspect of the work] is
the most important part, because if they can’t do that,
the rest of the business isn’t going to work."


Meyer began working alongside Jimmy on the kill floor soon after that, with Kris teaching them the arcane, detailed and exhausting work that goes into processing in a USDA facility. Also involved were endless conversations about how to transition to new owners from a second generation, family-owned and run business.

Marks Meats (c. 1975).

Kris said that the last eight to ten months have been spent seeing if Ben and Jimmy could learn how to handle the work.

"It’s the most important part, because if they can’t do that, the rest of the business isn’t going to work," she said, emphasizing that the learning curve is a steep one. "You need to get up from kindergarten to college really fast. If you’re going into this business from an apprenticeship level up to a journeyman, it can take up to ten years. So doing it in this [short] length of time, it’s difficult."

Other complicating factors are that Marks is a corporation, with a USDA grant of inspection involved. Being the shrewd businesswoman she is, the key to a successful transition, Kris said, is that "you’ve got to make it work for a business, because you can’t make it work for everybody if it doesn’t make business sense."

When I asked what the hardest part of the process has been for Kris personally, she paused. "Probably the letting go and letting somebody else do something for me," she said. In the past, she said, "If it didn’t get done, I had to do it and make sure it got done."

Read the first post in the series, Rejuvenating Local Processing. The final post in the series focuses on the future of small processors, titled Upending the Status Quo, with an interview with Revel Meat co-owner Ben Meyer.

Photos courtesy Kris Akin.

Meat of the Matter: Rejuvenating Local Processing

This series looks at how one small processor, Marks Meats in Canby, is transitioning from the founding owner-operators to a new generation of ownership under the name Revel Meat Company. This post was developed in collaboration with Old Salt Marketplace, a supporter of Good Stuff NW.

The first time in his life that Jimmy Serlin walked onto a kill floor was just about a year ago. It was lamb day at Marks Meats in Canby, and 60 sheep were scheduled for slaughter and processing. Intense, smelly, dangerous work, with trolleys weighing 15 pounds hanging 20 feet over his head, it could have been disastrous.

Instead, the words he used to describe it were more like those of someone falling in love.

“I was just instantly enamored,” he said, and remembered thinking, “This is what I want to do.”

Left to right: Ben Meyer, Ryan Ramage and Jimmy Serlin of Revel Meats.

That feeling didn’t diminish even though he recalls going home at the end of the week so tired and sore he walked in the house and flopped down on his bed. When his roommate came in and asked him how it had gone, he said, “I can’t lift my arms off the bed.”

It’s tempting to paint the picture as one of the prodigal son finding his calling, since his father had owned a wholesale meat packing business in Manhattan supplying area restaurants. Young Jimmy often skipped school to go to work with his dad, helping load the trucks for tips, but he found himself more drawn to the restaurants those trucks were heading to.

So, starting as a dishwasher at 13, he began cooking on the line soon after, eventually ending up at culinary school where he became fascinated with butchery. Stints in far-flung restaurants in New York, Vermont, Colorado and California, many with his culinary school buddy Karl Holl, cemented those nascent skills. Working for well-known restaurateur Staffan Terje at Perbacco in San Francisco, a high-rolling customer named Frank offered the pair a chance to come to Oregon and work on a start-up producing naturally raised geese for foie gras.

That, of course, went the way of many high-concept start-ups, leaving Karl and Jimmy and a few friends they’d moved with to Oregon sitting on a farm they’d leased near Salem and needing to pay the rent. But being a flexible and talented group, they decided to start a pop-up restaurant and catering business called Let Um Eat, with the lofty goal of “uniting the seeders, feeders and eaters of the food revolution.”

Revel Meat Co. USDA stamp.

A move to a permanent location, a farm on Milk Creek near Canby, proved to be pivotal in a way the group couldn’t have foreseen. They’d often stop down the road to buy steaks at a small meat processor, where Jimmy boasted to its owner, Kris Akin, about the Let Um Eat collective. “She, of course, looked us up on the internet and said, ‘What the hell is Let Um Eat? You guys sound like weirdos,’” he said.

Weirdos or not, Akin saw the value in the local network they had created, especially since she needed help finding qualified employees to process the animals into sausages and cuts of meat. And because she and her husband Joe were looking to turn the business over to new owners so they could retire.

The Processing Bottleneck

It’s probably a good point to “pivot,” as the au courant phrase has it, to discuss some of the history of meat processing in Oregon.

Tools of the trade.

According to Akin, in the mid-20th Century there were more than 1,000 small meat processors operating in Oregon, with one in almost every small town. They served as slaughterhouses and processing plants for local farmers and ranchers, and most were regulated by the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) meat inspection program established in 1957. By 1967 the Wholesome Meat Act passed by Congress gave the USDA the responsibility of ensuring that animals were slaughtered humanely and that states maintained meat and poultry inspection programs at least equal to the federal program.

[Historical factoid: The Wholesome Meat Act, a reform pushed by consumer activist Ralph Nader in the 1960s, was known as “The Jungle, Part 2,” after Upton Sinclair’s book, “The Jungle,” about the deplorable conditions in meat processing plants in turn of the century Chicago, resulted in the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act in 1906.]

At that point Oregon turned over its meat inspection program to the USDA, which meant that small processors had to upgrade to meet federal standards—an extremely expensive proposition for marginally profitable businesses—or become “custom exempt,” meaning that they could only slaughter and process livestock for the exclusive use of the farmer and agree to inspection by both ODA and USDA once or twice a year.

Without access to funds to invest in updating equipment, hire skilled workers or do the marketing to find producers, not to mention consumers to buy their products, small facilities suffered. The implementation in 1996 of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system—establishing new requirements to improve food safety—and the simultaneous consolidation in the grocery industry were an “inflection point,” according to Lauren Gwin of Oregon State University’s Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network.

Discussing cuts.

“People blame regulations, and that shift was really hard for small plants,” she said. “But there were larger changes in the meat industry at the same time that were putting pressure on those small plants. The consolidation in the industry, including the shift to boxed meat, really changed things for the smaller plants.”

This shift from small grocers to large supermarkets, which closed butcher departments and switched to boxes of pre-cut meat from large processors, caused many of the state’s small slaughterhouses to shutter. From 2000 to 2015, mobile and custom-exempt facilities in Oregon dropped more than 30 percent, from 93 to 63, and the number of USDA-inspected slaughterhouses fell 25 percent, from 16 to 12.

Another consequence of the loss of these small processors is that farmers and ranchers have been forced to transport their animals longer and longer distances to get them slaughtered and processed, a costly and environmentally questionable practice. An article in the Eugene Register-Guard, titled “A Meaty Bottleneck,” quotes a 2005 study by Ecotrust concluding that “42 percent [of growers] said they would consider raising more animals if they had improved access to meat-processing facilities.”

Because pasture-raised and grass-fed meat from small farms is in increasingly high demand from consumers who want to know where their food comes from, including how it was raised, slaughtered and processed, it’s critical to the health and vibrancy of Oregon’s food system that small processors survive to serve them.

Read the next post in the series, an interview with Kris Akin, owner of Mark’s Meats, about the challenges of passing on a family business. The third post focuses on the future of small processors in an interview with Ben Meyer, titled Upending the Status Quo.

All photos by Rich Crowder.