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Farmers form North Cascade Meats cooperative

Jun 30th, 2012 | Category: Farms

by Jessica Harbert

A collective of local farms is working under North Cascade Meats, a Farmers’ Cooperative, and has started accepting members.

The cooperative includes farms from three counties – Skagit, Island and Whatcom – and recently expanded to include Jefferson and Clallam. The organization’s goal is to provide a marketing arm for local, grass-fed pasteurized meats. Currently the cooperative plans to work with beef, pork and lamb processing.

Founding farms include Buttin’ Grove Farm, Doran Farms, Farmer Ben’s, Fat Grass Farms, Grass Fare, Liberty Farm, Matheson Farms, Skiyou Ranch, and Whatcom Natural Beef. Carstens Ranch and Martiny Farms recently joined as well.

One of the major challenges in raising local livestock is being able to keep up with demand and by working together the group would have more to offer the local consumer.

“By joining forces we can pull our resources,” said Pat Grover, President of the North Cascade Meats. “Consumers will know it was locally grown.”

Grover’s Buttin’ Grove Farms, located between Blaine and Custer, started with pygmy goats 20 years ago, and has since raised pigs, sheep and cows.

The cooperative’s founding board of directors has been working with the Northwest Agriculture Business Center and advisor Jeff Voltz to develop this plan. This group was first conceptualized in 2010 during discussion involving the possibility of Keizer Meats –  the only USDA grade processing facility offering access to local farmers in Whatcom County – going on the market. Keizer continues to serve the community.

Nonetheless, Grover said, “It became obvious that we needed to build a system.”

In taking a different approach, the group has created a marketing strategy for local farmers who are members, allowing the meat to be sold under the North Cascade Meats label.

“We have developed a brand instead of slaughtering and packaging,” Grover said.

The cooperative offers three membership levels, including custom processing, USDA processing and North Cascade Meats Grower. Each level offers different benefits and cooperative votes, with varying costs, allowing for memberships that can work for a variety of farmers.

The beauty of a cooperative such as this is that sustainable standards are set and can be adhered to by its members, ensuring a certain level of quality for the consumer, members said. Standards include animals be 100 percent grass fed for at least six months before slaughter, hormone free, and prohibiting the routine use of antibiotics. The pasture standard requires no commercial fertilizers or pesticides and the grazing animals can’t have any detrimental impact.

The cooperative is in discussions with local restaurants and community resources to utilize the locally raised meat. Restaurants include Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro, Fiamma Burger, Willows Inn and Semiahmoo Resort, along with Western Washington University’s Dining Services, St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Bellingham Food Co-op.

“We’re really excited that local meat producers have formed The North Cascades Meat Producers Cooperative to market their products under a common label,” said Jim Ashby, General Manager of Community Food Co-op, in a press release. “We work with several of the individual producers now that belong to the co-op and know the great quality of their products. Our owners and shoppers will really value knowing that the same high quality standards will be behind all the products from the cooperative.”

The cooperative would sell hamburger mix, steaks and ribs to local restaurants, among other selections depending on what is available, Grover said. Approaching local restaurants from a cooperative angle helps keep the supply available, which is a great benefit to farmers who struggle to consistently keep up with supply.

“It has always been a problem,” Grover said. “Any farmer in Whatcom/Skagit cannot keep up with demand in grocery and restaurant.”

The group will also rent a mobile processing unit from Pierce County Conservation District for processing beef and pork. Plans for the unit include being in Whatcom County three times a week twice a month, Grover said.

Matthew Aamot, a local producer and owner of Hannegan Farm and Home has served as the cooperative’s Secretary-Treasurer. “…We thought there was a great opportunity and potential for local producers to work together to co-brand and market, as well as gaining greater control of our own destinies by pooling efforts and resources,” Aamot said.

The cooperative is also working toward keeping calves in Whatcom County instead of selling calves to farms outside the area. With increased access to processing beef locally, calves could be kept and utilized, not sold elsewhere, Grover said.

An organization with a similar style is the Vashon Island Growers Association, which started in the 1980s and is currently working with a mobile slaughterhouse unit adapting to the increased demand with more farmers raising livestock. North Cascade Meats hopes to work together with not only farmers but other local cooperatives.

The cooperative is also exploring the Seattle specialty markets and hoping to find more ways to make their products accessible in Western Washington.

For more information, visit northcascademeats.com or follow their Facebook page.

Participating Farms

More than 10 farms in Whatcom, Skagit and Island counties (and recently expanded to include Jefferson and Clallum) will be under the brand, including:

Buttin’ Grove Farm

Doran Farms

Farmer Ben’s

Fat Grass Farms

Grass Fare

Liberty Farm

Matheson Farms

Skiyou Ranch

Whatcom Natural Beef

Carstens Ranch

Martiny Farms

Published in the July 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine

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