Long before the pandemic hit, small and medium livestock producers were aware that access to local meat processing was challenging. Meat processors in southern Wisconsin have had a difficult time keeping up with demand, and the pandemic only made the situation worse. A new co-op is looking to increase the local meat processing capacity and help area farmers maintain and grow their businesses.
Meatsmith Co-op is a newly formed group located in Lafayette County that is working to convert a former grocery store in Argyle into a nose-to-tail meat processing facility, with future plans to operate a state-inspected mobile slaughter unit (MSU) to harvest animals exclusively on local farms. The cooperative is owned by producers and workers and intends to be complementary to other local meat processors, not in direct competition with them.
Meatsmith Co-op has conducted a survey to assess the needs of farms in Dane, Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, and Rock counties. Responses to date indicate 61% of producers would be “very likely” to use an MSU for their harvesting, and 58% of producers would be “somewhat likely” or “very likely” to join a farmer- and worker-owned co-op. These observations — along with many comments from non-farmers interested in purchasing locally-raised meat — have given the co-op valuable input on how best to serve the needs of our community.
The seven board members are farmers, butchers, educators and community members. Their collective work on building sustainable, responsible farming and processing practices spans decades. They are buoyed by involvement with the Wisconsin Farmers Union, the Food Finance Institute, the UW Law & Entrepreneurial Center, and the UW Center for Cooperatives. The co-op has applied for and received a conditional use permit from the Village of Argyle and is a grateful recipient of grants from the Food, Faith and Farming Network and Launch Lafayette County.
The cooperative is planning to proceed with a phased growth plan. The first phase is to only process custom-exempt animals, which means that only the owner(s) of the animal receive the meat and it can not be sold to the public. As the co-op grows, the next step is to become a
state-inspected facility, which would allow meat to be sold by the producers and the co-op within the state of Wisconsin. The ultimate goal is to participate in the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) program, making it possible for producers and the co-op to sell meat products throughout the U.S. Additionally, the co-op hopes to incorporate a storefront to sell local meat and non-meat products to the public with the potential for order fulfillment via mail.
In addition to serving livestock farms in southwestern and south-central Wisconsin, the co-op will be providing meat-cutting and packaging jobs at its facility, with the ambition of providing education on whole-animal butchery that will be available to the community.
As a co-op, our goal is to provide services that make it easier to link farmers and consumers and keep our community thriving and connected. If you wish to learn more, please visit our website at www.meatsmithcoop.com to sign-up for co-op updates or click the GoFundMe button on the website to donate to our crowdfunding efforts.