One of the biggest challenges facing any community trying to create a local food system is the bottleneck created by a lack of slaughterhouse facilities. We're facing it here in Vermont, and this article in The New York Times reports that the Bay Area is having similar difficulties. Simply put, there are not enough slaughterhouses to process locally-raised, grass-fed beef and pork. Here in Vermont, an exemption for farmers raising less than 1,000 chickens or other poultry allows us to process our birds on-farm and still sell to restaurants, with some rules around that (for example, the restaurant has to clearly state that the meat is uninspected).
But for beef and pork, finding a time available at a slaughterhouse during the busy season can be a barrier for small farmers. Slaughterhouses are often booked months in advance for the busy season. Yet those who study local food systems say that it isn't as simple as building more facilities. The seasonal nature of slaughterhouse work leads to many months when the facility will sit empty, unused - but the bills still have to be paid.
I've been thinking about this since attending the NEK Food and Farm Summit last Saturday, where the topic came up several times. This NYT article underscores what I learned there, and affirms that Vermont isn't alone in dealing with this conundrum. One suggestion is to add more exemptions for small-scale farmers, like the one Vermont created for poultry. Maybe if you raise just a few beefs or pigs, you could process them on-farm and sell to restaurants and stores with an uninspected exemption, just like chicken. Any other ideas?