- Animal Production: meat processing, meat processing facilities, meat product quality/safety, processing regulations
- Education and Training: decision support system, farmer to farmer, workshop
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, business planning, cooperatives, feasibility study, value added
- Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, community development, infrastructure analysis
Problem Addressed and Solution Pursued
Access to quality meat processing is a problem throughout our region. Problems include:
- Availability: Schedules are so full that available butcher dates are 3-4+ months away
- Labelling and Packaging: Farmers selling directly to customers often have health department requirements or customer demands that are different from other farmers,
- Transparency: Farmers who sell directly to customers depend on assurance that the packaged meat is, in fact, their own meat.
- Fuel Cost: to/from the butcher shop and back to retrieve the meat
- Time Off-Farm: during trips to/from the butcher shop
We aimed to increase the sustainability of our livestock operations by ensuring access to a red meat processing facility that meets our needs as small, direct market farmers. We used SARE funds to plan a "farmer-to-farmer" butcher shop: a facility designed by farmers, for farmers.
Project Research Approach, Outreach, and Farmer Learning Outcomes
This feasibility study included: detailed cash flow projections; business plan; regulatory planning with an eye towards food safety and HACCP plans; and a site plan and list of materials needed. We wanted everything to be open source and available to other farmers, so we published all of this information on our website, www.nightfallfarm.com/processing, and distributed it at conferences.
We wanted to share what we learned, so we gathered other farmers who face butcher access and quality challenges, so that they could learn together. After our activities, farmers reported increased understanding of both regulatory and financial realities for existing and potential butcher shops. Our outreach included:
- A tour of butcher shops in the Indianapolis area, as part of the 2019 Indiana Small Farms Conference. Participants toured two state or USDA inspected processing facilities as well as one retail area, and listened to a panel discussion with nearby farmers who have opened butcher shops
- Presentation at the 2020 Indiana Uplands Winter Farming Conference, where we shared about both our feasibility study and the survey results
We also conducted a statewide survey of livestock producers to get a better sense of their frustrations and needs. We designed the survey to help inform the "whats" of our butcher shop: what services to provide, what scale, etc. However, it also informed the social sustainability of this project. Eighty farmers from 30 Indiana counties filled out the survey. The survey results affirmed our own frustration with current processing options - and made clear that there is a niche for a (several?!?) farmer-focused butcher shop(s).
Succinct Statement of Research Conclusions
This SARE project has been incredibly useful. Our feasibility study confirmed that there is a true need for a farmer-focused butcher shop(s), and that a version of this business could be economically viable. Our cash flow analysis, floor plans, equipment lists, etc. are all available for free at www.nightfallfarm.com/processing. In short, a 5-species, kill and process facility would be difficult to sustain given the parameters that we set for ourselves: a focus on farmers' needs and quality over quantity; the ability to build the business slowly over time (so perhaps starting with one part-time employee), etc. However, a 3-species cut and wrap facility is financially viable and meets quality of life objectives for the owner of the business while also meeting farmers' needs for reliable, farmer-focused butchering.
We also learned a great deal of information about how butchering options relate to farmers' social and economic sustainability. We suspect that this information could be critical to other farmers interested in opening butcher shops. Nearly every respondent (88%) cited their processing situation as a barrier to expanding their farm business. Details about their input is in the "Results" section.
Farmer Adoption Actions
We are encouraged that we found a version of a farmer-focused butcher shop that is economically sustainable - and that it can build farmers' social sustainability. We feel prepared to create this cut and wrap facility. Thanks to our SARE project, we have a floor plan, an equipment list, a cash flow analysis, a business plan, an understanding of regulatory requirements, and contacts nationwide. We also learned what questions to ask, and how a group might need to learn together and process together if they are considering opening a butcher shop. We have included this more qualitative information in our handouts as well.
We hope that other farmers and ranchers interested in opening butcher shops will utilize these resources in their decision-making as they consider how to improve their economic and social sustainability.
Now that we have completed our SARE project, our next major task is to decide who wants to open it, and how. We are in the beginning stages of considering things like zoning approval and potential grants and loans.
- Create a “shovel-ready” plan for a farmer-to-farmer butcher shop, so that we are ready to begin creating our butcher shop - scheduling construction, ordering materials, scheduling processing, etc. Plan will include:
- Business plan, including budget and cash-flow analysis
- Resources for meeting regulatory requirements
- Resources for meeting food safety and HACCP planning needs
- Site plan and list of equipment needed
- Gather livestock farmers in Indiana to learn together about butchering options that accommodate farms selling in local and regional markets. Share our plans via our in-person workshops and via our website.
- Partner with Indiana University to conduct a meat processing survey. The survey will gauge farmers' sense of processing problems and opportunities in the state. Thanks to IU's number-crunching capacity, we will be able to share the results of this survey in an academically rigorous way, and share this data with decision-makers in the state. The results should help guide future conversations and progress on meat processing in Indiana.