Strengthening Links Between Meat Producers, Processors, and Consumers

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1998: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $6,300.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Jenifer Buckley
Sustainable Farming Association of Northeast Minnesota

Annual Reports


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


  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives, marketing management
  • Sustainable Communities: urban/rural integration, employment opportunities, social networks


    Custom processing can be a rewarding direct livestock marketing channel. The Sustainable Farming Association surveyed a comprehensive list of producers and processors throughout northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin for 1. information that consumers need, but often do not have, about buying custom-processed meat, and 2. interest in appearing in directories for consumers. From this, the SFA developed producer and processor directories, a consumer flyer outlining the steps in buying custom-processed meat, and a series of more detailed fact sheets. Courses were given in cooking with lean meat and farm tours for English as a Second Language classes were given.


    Custom processing — selling meat by the whole animal, side or (for beef) quarter — has the potential to be a rewarding direct marketing channel for livestock producers. This is especially crucial in areas like northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, where there are few inspected processing plants — inspection is required for sale of individual cuts of meat — and where wholesale markets are not viable for many producers.

    The overall goal of this project was to identify and overcome consumers' barriers to buying custom processed meat, in order to make it a more rewarding channel. Our original objectives were to hold meetings between producers and custom processors to determine mutual needs in the processing of direct-marketed animals (we ultimately did this via surveys and not meetings); to develop a brochure for consumers on the processing of locally raised meats (revising after one year as necessary); and to provide consumer outreach — semi-annual classes on preparation of local meats, which are leaner and need to be cooked differently than more marbled meat.

    The project's work in sum:

    surveys—> outreach materials—>(outreach, evaluation, more surveys)—> revised outreach materials

    During the first year, we sent surveys to livestock producers and meat processors in the region. About one-quarter of each responded, with 19 producers wishing to be listed in the producer directory, and nine processors providing information for the processor directory. In explaining the low survey response rate, informal conversations indicated that many producers do not wish to direct market, and that many processors are already at capacity. The responses, though, confirmed that there was nevertheless definite interest in the project.

    Materials developed during the first year include producer and processor directories and a set of nine fact sheets (totaling 21 pages) explaining aspects of buying custom processed meat, such as giving cutting instructions to the processor, calculating costs based on hanging weight, and other consumer education issues that both producer and processor responses had suggested.

    Outreach and distribution activities included mailings to producers, processors, Extension offices, and presentations at meetings of producer organizations and other events; community education classes in cooking with lean meat; and farm tours for English as a Second Language students.

    Written evaluations collected during this time on the materials, and casual observation, led to a series of revisions during the second year of the project. The chief revision was the condensing of the most essential fact sheet information into a one-page brochure, to make it more user-friendly. The producer directory was expanded to include fruit, vegetable and other farm products in addition to livestock. Most fact sheets were retained for consumers seeking more detail, and the processor directory was slightly revised to update information on facilities.

    Media response and the ensuing consumer response to this material has been very good. We plan continued distribution through 4-H clubs, feed stores, fairs, and other channels.

    Project objectives:

    Original project objectives were:

    1. Hold one meeting per year between producers and custom processors to determine mutual needs in the processing of direct-marketed animals.
    2. Develop a brochure for consumers on the processing of locally raised meats; revise after one year as necessary.
    3. Provide consumers with semi-annual classes on preparation of local meats.

    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.