<&firstgraph>When corporate pork processing plants closed in April, small meat processors encountered something they’ve never seen before. Suddenly farmers with corporate contracts started selling their hogs direct to customers and trying to schedule butcher dates for tens and sometimes hundreds of hogs at a time.
<&firstgraph>As these large corporate companies closed, farmers were left with little to no options for off-loading their hogs that were ready to be processed, but to try to find new buyers for them. They couldn’t keep feeding hogs that would soon be too big to process at streamlined corporate processing plants that slaughter up to 20,000 hogs daily.
<&firstgraph>Compare that to a small operation that might be able to butcher up to ten hogs per day. During the past two months I’ve worked at Krenik’s Meat Procerssing, a small-scale meat processor that does custom slaughter, mostly cattle and hogs, for local farmers that either sell direct to consumers or keep the meat to feed their own families. Since the Minnesota Stay-At-Home order has been in place, there have been no days off and it has not been business as usual for small meat processors. It has been “absolutely nuts” as we say almost daily.
<&firstgraph>When I started in April, owner Jim Krenik said that it was busier than it normally was before the Easter holiday. Local farmers were scheduling processing dates for beef and pork that they were selling to an increased number of local customers wanting to order half hogs and quarter beeves to fill their freezers. As people emptied grocery store shelves during the first weeks of the Minnesota Stay-At-Home Order, this resulted in more people turning to their local farmer friends for meat.
<&firstgraph>When corporate processing plants started closing due to COVID-19 outbreaks, small meat processors’ phones started ringing off the hook. Calls were coming from farmers or buyers looking to process their hogs from as far away as Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Within days, our local processors were booked for the months of May and June.
<&firstgraph>Small-scale local farmers started to realize the need to set their processing dates for later in the year and small meat processors in our area quickly booked through the Dec. 31. Small meat processors have limited cooler space, staffing, and daylight time. There’s only so much that can be done in a day when business as usual suddenly explodes.
<&firstgraph>One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that more people want to support small farms, seek local food sources, and shorten their food chain. People are cooking more at home, wanting to go out less even to the grocery store, and starting to educate themselves on how to buy direct from farmers. If you’re a farmer with animals to process later in the year, I suggest calling your local processor today to set your date.
<&firstgraph>For customers wanting to source locally, know that there are many options. Minnesota Grown, Minnesota Cooks (from MN Farmers’ Union), Cannon Valley Grown, and local farmers’ markets are great resources for sourcing local.