The future for living local is moving beyond eating Island-grown vegetables and fruits. Vineyarders are already eating Island-raised poultry on an increasingly large scale, and a growing group of farmers would like to see that expanded to include local beef, pork, lamb and venison.
In a special forum at the Living Local Harvest Festival on Saturday at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury, three farmers and a local chef spoke about their hope for a slaughterhouse on the Vineyard, despite a daunting array of government restrictions.
Jim Athearn, owner of Morning Glory Farm, moderated the panel discussion. Richard Andre of Cleveland Farm and Allen Healy of Mermaid Farm and Dairy spoke, along with Robert Lionette, the chef at Zephrus Zeafood and Grill in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Lionette said he would like to include locally-raised pork, beef and lamb on his menu, but the cost is prohibitive. One reason is that most farm animals raised on the Island must be transported to the mainland for slaughter and processing; then the meat must be transported back to the Island again for sale.
It’s obviously an inefficient system.
Mr. Athearn said the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society has both the land and the interest to establish a slaughterhouse on the Vineyard. A federal meat inspector would have to be on site, and among other things there are questions about how to pay for that.
But Mr. Healy said the problems with transporting four-legged animals to the mainland for slaughter are not confined to cost. “It is stressful for the animals and it is not pleasant,” he said. Mr. Healy said he looked forward to the day when the Island has a slaughterhouse.
Mr. Andre spoke about his success with raising hogs and 500 pasture-raised chickens. As the Island poultry coordinator, he said he sees a growing interest for locally-raised chicken. Thanks to the nonprofit Island Grown Initiative, the Vineyard now has a mobile poultry processer that travels from farm to farm to assist with chicken slaughtering. The equipment was on display outside the exhibition tent on Saturday.
The purchase of the processor has helped to boost poultry farming; Mr. Andre estimated that about 3,000 chickens were handled by the mobile unit last year.
“We expect to have more birds next year,” he said.
He said the market could easily be expanded: by one estimate, if every Island family ate one chicken a month, it would translate to over 50,000 chickens a year.
Mr. Andre and Mr. Athearn agreed that the concept of raising poultry on the Vineyard and taking it to market has been a proven success. And they said it follows logically that a slaughterhouse would provide a similar boost to small farmers who raise beef, pork and lamb. Added to that, there is plenty of wild venison harvested in the fall.
One farmer who attended the workshop from the mainland offered words of encouragement. Maria Moreira, who with her husband Manny owns a dairy farm in Lancaster, said her community worked hard to establish a slaughterhouse. After years of effort, she said, they finally found success.
Mrs. Moreira said there are only two facilities in the state where USDA inspectors are on site all the time. But there are custom facilities throughout the state, she said.
“If you are not organized, you need to organize,” she advised, adding: “Once the community gets behind you it is not hard. Your community is already behind you. It is all about putting the pieces together.”
Of course the current trend favors the effort. “If you are a meat eater you need to be concerned about where your meat is coming from,” Mrs. Moreira said.
During the question and answer period, Steve Bernier, owner of Cronig’s Markets, said he sees a great potential for the community to have its own slaughter facility. It may begin as a small pilot program with not a lot of manpower, he said, but he echoed the themes of concern among people about where their food is coming from.
“We will get there. I can feel it,” Mr. Bernier said.