Are you a consumer who cares about where your meat comes from? Do you know what King County and other agencies and organizations are doing to promote locally produced meats?
The WA Meat Up Leadership Summit created an alliance for further enhancing a strong local meat economy.
WA Meat Up is a diverse group of collaborators and entrepreneurs along every link of the niche meat supply chain who support strengthening the local meat economy in Washington State.
In late August, staff members from King County’s Agricultural Program, Washington State University (WSU), Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), and Salumi Artisan Cured Meats worked together to create the WA Meat Up Leadership Summit to provide a space for producers, processors and policy makers to facilitate conversations and create a dialogue about the local meat economy in King County.
The Local Food Team spoke with event volunteer Colleen Bowman, a Pike Place Market PDA Board member, and Laura Raymond, WSDA Regional Markets Program lead, about how and why the WA Meat Up Leadership Summit was created, and what this event means for local meat production in King County.
Local Food Team (LFT): Why was the WA Meat Up Leadership Summit created?
Colleen Bowman (CB): This event was created to help people make connections and start talking about major challenges and opportunities that producers, processors, restaurateurs, and other stakeholders encounter in the meat industry.
We knew this was a shared challenge throughout the state, so we created this event as a regional meeting open to all meat industry stakeholders in Washington.
The feedback we were collectively receiving from individuals in the meat industry indicated that significant gaps existed, which made it tough to produce local meat. Our group identified the need early on to get everyone in a room to talk about challenges stakeholders experience along the value chain.
Laura Raymond (LR): Due to grant funding, WSDA Regional Markets Program has been focused on market opportunities for local produce in recent years. New state funding allows us to expand our focus to include local meat production.
There are many meat producers in King County, and there is high consumer interest for local meat. We identified many gaps in local meat production over the last 10 years and wanted to create a program to assist those producers.
LFT: How was this Summit created?
LR: I was working closely with WSU Food Systems who has been involved in building a successful model for supporting and building the local grain economy for specialty grain producers in Washington. They created the Cascadia Grains Conference, which helped connect grain producers and convene the sector.
We wanted to replicate this process for the niche meat industry, so WSU and WSDA started to pool resources to begin planning the WA Meat Up Leadership Summit.
We began creating a multi-partnership collaboration that started between two agricultural institutions, WSU and WSDA. Then, we started to reach out and partner with other agencies and organizations, including King County and King Conservation District, as well as private businesses like Salumi Artisan Cured Meats.
We formed a great group of partners that were asking the right questions and showed interest in helping connect people who work in the meat industry in various ways.
LFT: How did the WA Meat Up Leadership Summit go? What were the main takeaways?
CB: Since I do not work as closely with meat industry stakeholders as some of the other organizers, it was eye opening for me not knowing about many of the meat production challenges and seeing opportunities unfold for participants throughout the event.
WSU has great facilitators who know how to get a conversation started. Every focus group was an hour long, and we learned from participants and facilitators that an hour was too short! We believe this is evidence of how great the discussions and facilitators were.
LR: Whenever you do something for the first time, you’re never sure how it will be received. We planned farm tours, workshops, discussions, and a happy hour all in one day, which was a lot of information for participants to absorb.
We were grateful that people were willing to show up and learn. Everyone came with an open mind and readiness to engage. There was a lot of energy and many rich conversations between participants in different areas of the niche meat industry.
We also had an opportunity for informal networking after the official event was over, and it was an incredibly positive sign that a good portion of the attendees were there sitting and talking for hours afterward.
We thought, “Okay, yeah, this sector is excited to finally come together and share experiences and collaborate.”
LFT: Why is this Summit important for meat consumers?
LR: Consumers are critical for increasing support of local food systems. They want to know more about and be more closely connected to the farms that are raising the animals that they are eating.
The meat production chain can be long and distant. We have a gap in the supply chain for local meat producers to be directly connected with consumers.
The type of processing facilities needed for local meat production and the regulatory landscape can pose challenges for meat producers getting their meat to the market.
What do we need to fill this gap? What infrastructure do we need? If the facilities exist, do we have skilled butchers who can work with small scale producers? It’s a really complex space, and consumer knowledge of the challenges producers face can help catalyze change in the meat industry.
LFT: What is next now that the Summit is over? Are there any future plans?
LR: We hope WA Meat Up will continue to be an organizing identity for the local meat sector. We hope it will be a space where stakeholders can come together with other producers and businesses to learn about what will be useful for the future of the Washington local meat industry.
We hope we can organize an actual local meat-focused conference, but at this point, there is no dedicated financial resource to plan another major event. The Summit was a starting point to talk about challenges and ideas that could positively impact the meat industry. Now we hope we can continue this momentum and strategically plan for a conference that can be oriented to producers and other practitioners and include educational workshops.
CB: We also have the WA Meat Up online network where we hope to be a resource for small-scale meat industry stakeholders to connect online.
Producers, consumers, and others interested in local meat focused events join the WA Meat Up network on their website here.
We are also interested in input on what people envision for a Meat Up statewide conference. We’d love if you could fill out our survey here.
For more information, visit wameatup.com.
All pictures courtesy of WA Meat Up network.