Small Meat Lockers Working Group

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2007: $9,131.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Cornelia Butler Flora
Iowa State University


  • Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, swine, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: demonstration, participatory research, study circle, technical assistance
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency, energy use
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, farm-to-institution, feasibility study, market study, marketing management, new enterprise development, risk management, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: community services, employment opportunities, infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, social capital


    The Small Meat Lockers Working Group (now known as the “Small Meat Processors Working Group”) is a participatory action project utilizing a community of practice structure bring diverse stakeholders – processors, Extension, producer groups, and state agents – together to provide coordinated, strategic support for the small-scale meat processing sector in Iowa.

    The group has been successful in providing accessible information to plants seeking to expand, upgrade, or build new facilities; helping many processors develop more accurate and profitable product and service costing; and bringing assistance providers into better communication with each other.


    A fundamental premise of sustainable agriculture is the ability to recycle nutrients within a farming system. The integration of crops and livestock on a farm is a desirable method for recycling nutrients, both practically and economically. Livestock are desirable way of utilizing land that, for ecological reasons, should not be tilled and planted with annual crops. Meat is typically a high value product, greatly helping support farm financial viability.

    In recent decades the loss of small-scale meat processing infrastructure (“meat lockers”) has been often cited as a barrier to the viability of small diversified farms. This project sought (and continues to work) to improve decentralized meat processing infrastructure by forming a “community of practice,” a form of a participatory action research working group, of about a dozen organizations charged with inductively developing a plan for a coordinated structural support system for small meat processors in Iowa, inclusive of both public and private resources. The group’s mission is “to help small, Iowa meat processors expand, upgrade or build new facilities in order to promote rural development and increase agricultural opportunities.”

    This Working Group began meeting in Sept of 2006, with three “test cases” - processors seeking to expand or upgrade – as means of investigating obstacles and weaknesses in structural support. After several months of work it became clear that the project will take longer than the one year that was originally planned. SARE funding helped the project continue another year. The project has been very successful, raising additional funds to expand its scope of work both during the SARE funding period and for an additional year from the Value Chain Partnerships Project (

    Project objectives:

    The overall project long-term goal was to establish a comprehensive and provider-coordinated structural support system for small meat lockers in Iowa. The process has been somewhat iterative due to its exploratory and participatory action nature. Through the short terms outputs of organizing a working group of support organizations and, as a group, working through three “test cases” – lockers seeking to expand or upgrade – intermediate-term objectives that support the overall goal included:

    1. Cultivate inter-organizational trust and familiarity, and social capital between working group members so as to facilitate working group members and their organizations working together for the long haul.

    2. Produce a guidebook of resources available to small meat lockers that will both serve as a reference for working group member organizations and an educational resources book for small meat lockers and organizations that work with them.

    3. Establish an annual meeting where working group members get together with each other and small meat locker owner/operators in order to refine support. This will probably happen at the Iowa Meat Processors Association annual conference.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.