Local Farmers Face Troubles as Slaughterhouses Shut Down

By: Justin Chan

In one California region, the local-food movement is in danger of weakening, and some are worried about the economic costs it may have on their businesses.

According to the Wall Street Journal, small chicken farmers in the Bay Area are struggling to find slaughterhouses for their chickens and fear that it may now be more expensive to sell locally produced food to customers. The Bay Area is considered the home of the local-food movement, but businesses such as the slaughter operations in Sonoma County have shut down, forcing local farmers to travel miles to find alternative locations. Three slaughter operations have closed already, and most farmers now find themselves driving at least 100 miles to Stockton and the Central Valley in order to get the appropriate services.

"Sonoma County has this huge farm-to-table movement, and yet we're being put out of business," said Adam Parks, owner of Victorian Farmstead in the city of Sebastopol. The lack of nearby slaughterhouses in the county means an increase in transportation costs, and much of that burden may, in turn, mean an increase in food prices.  Though the demand for locally raised chicken has increased, frequent customers may find themselves looking elsewhere for food in the future.

"If it became unaffordable, I would have to buy something else," said Kathy Woeltjen, who signed a one-year agreement last year to buy free-range chickens from a local farmer. "I really want to buy as much food locally as I can, because it's better ethically and for the environment."

What makes matters even more difficult is that several slaughterhouses that serve local farmers have consolidated, reducing the number of businesses that are available to these clients. While the consolidations are intended to make operations more efficient, an undue burden is placed on the farmers. Some have tried to avoid the increase in transportation costs by slaughtering the chickens on their own property but have faced legal troubles. Parks, for instance, used to slaughter close to 300 chickens per week before the county shut his operations down because he did not have a permit.

"I have the means to do this on my property, which is not only better for the environment but better for the birds," he said, arguing that he operated under an exemption when he slaughtered the chickens on his own land.

Although industry officials said that there are more than enough slaughterhouses in the state for the 300 million chickens that are produced annually, some local farmers insist on producing fresher chickens.  Parks is now in talks with local officials to see how he can re-open a slaughterhouse legally. "We'd be willing to find some kind of way he could work this in for himself and perhaps other people," said Jim Maertz, a code inspector for Sonoma County. "We'd be willing to sit down and talk with him."

Photo: The Real Estreya 

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