Making meat local: King County helps develop USDA meat processing in Carnation

In recent years, consumer demand for local food, including local meat and poultry, has risen. One of the barriers for livestock producers interested in meeting this demand has been the lack of processing facilities in King County that can safely prepare these products.

“USDA processing allows producers to sell sausages, steaks, burger patties, and a wide variety of other small cuts that are in high demand in King County,” said Darron Marzolf, butcher at Marzolf Meats. “The USDA mobile meat processing unit provides this service close to home for local livestock operators.”

Local pork chops at Columbia City Farmers Market

In 2015, King County was approached by livestock producers from SnoValley Tilth and Puget Sound Meat Producers Cooperative to help bring a USDA meat processing system to serve King County producers who needed help overcoming the barriers to USDA meat processing.

This project supports the Local Food Initiative strategy focused on improving local food processing, distribution, and marketing infrastructure in King County.

King County applied for and received a Regional Food System Grant from the King Conservation District in 2016 to support, locate and build out a site for a USDA mobile meat processing unit (MPU). The goal of this project is to make local meat more accessible in King County while providing a variety of benefits to local producers and creating demand for local processors and butchers.

The Beefing Up Infrastructure project team has worked over several years to locate and connect the many critical components of this work. More than 80 King County livestock producers have participated in workshops and helped shape the project by providing information and production numbers.

This new USDA operation will provide the butcher, site, infrastructure services, USDA grant of inspection and USDA inspector needed so that local farmers can locally access USDA processing.

What are the barriers for small-scale livestock producers? How does USDA processing help overcome these barriers?

“You make me so happy I could cry! Knowing I’ll have a close-to-home options leaves me optimistic about my future meat processing.  I was seriously thinking about moving to Skagit to join Island Grown, because I’m just so done with driving to Sandy, Oregon.” – CH, King County Pork Producer

Many farmers in King County have limited options for processing their livestock for local sales. With only a handful of operating USDA inspected facilities throughout Washington state, many local, small-scale farmers have little to no access to USDA processing, which limits their access to local markets for their products.

“Traveling long distances to these facilities causes a variety of problems for farmers and their animals,” said Patrice Barrentine, Agriculture Policy and Economic Development Specialist at King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks and also the Project Manager for this project. “Many producers have to travel more than 100 miles to deliver animals for processing. This not only stresses the animals, but also loses profits for producers paying for fuel and spending time in traffic.”

King County does not currently have a USDA meat processing facility that serves local livestock producers, which is a major barrier to local livestock production.

“Processing needs to happen as close to the animal as possible,” said Hannah Cavendish-Palmer, Executive Director at Carnation Farms. “To travel three to six hours for processing and then three to six more hours to cut and wrap facilities is unsustainable as a business and for the environment.”

What does USDA inspected mean?

“It is extremely difficult for farmers to raise livestock in King County because of limited access to USDA processing facilities,” said Marzolf. “I firmly believe this MPU will increase the number of livestock operations in King County.”

USDA inspection is required for farmers to sell meat to retail outlets such King County farmers markets, local restaurants and grocery stores.

Local bacon and ham from a farm vendor at Columbia City Farmers Market

The MPU is a custom trailer approved to operate and inspected every day of operation by a USDA inspector on-site.  The new MPU operation and site will be built out and ready for operation in late September at Carnation Farms.

USDA approves the site, facility, operational plans and inspects every animal throughout the process. This ensures safety and compliance with federal standards.

How it works

“Carnation Farms is very excited to host USDA meat processing and increase the economic viability of King County’s livestock farms,” said Cavendish-Palmer.

Carnation Farms

Producers make an appointment with Marzolf Meats to schedule processing. Producers take their animals on their prearranged processing day to the site at Carnation Farms. Producers then unload their livestock and the meat is harvested on-site. Afterward, the meat is transported to a USDA cut and wrap facility, which allows producers to sell their products anywhere, including local farmers markets, restaurants, grocery stores, and directly to consumer.

Interested producers should call Darron Marzolf, butcher at Marzolf Meats located at Carnation Farms, for more information and to schedule an appointment at 425-931-8081.

What are the benefits of local meat processing?

“USDA meat processing this close to King County markets will significantly help King County farmers and the region economically,” said Barrentine. “For a consumer, this means they can find locally produced meats in more markets. For a livestock producer, this means more time on the farm and less money spent on travel to processing facilities.”

Access to USDA processing is important because, this way, customers can find specific cuts of meat from locally grown livestock, rather than purchasing a whole or half animal and storing it in a freezer.

Another benefit of this project includes support for sustainable local livestock production and reducing food miles.

In addition, USDA inspection increases market opportunities for farmers and increases options for consumers to buy local meat. This helps ensure local dollars circulate and remain in King County.

The MPU will be in operation in late September, so be sure to keep an eye out for local meats at year-round farmers markets, restaurants and grocery stores!

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