New meat processing plant means opportunities for Vt. farmers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

New meat processing plant means opportunities for Vt. farmers

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READING, Vt. -

Eric Johnson looks after the Angus cattle on Newhall Farm in Reading. Johnson says the grass-fed cows are bred to ensure the best quality meat.

"There's 18 cows in here with calves right now," he said.

Some of the cattle have just days before they'll be sold. Before, that meant auctioning all of them off. Now, some will be sold to Black River Produce. The seafood and produce company in Springfield has taken on a new venture: meat processing.

"They are sort of like a safety valve. They'll buy things that you might not have ordinarily been able to sell," said Ted Fondulas, the estate manager

And while Black River Produce buys meat there isn't a large market for, the company says it's all high quality.

"All the pigs' tails go to Misery Loves Company, Delicatta Catering gets one bone-in shoulder, and that's how we do it," said Sean Buchanan, the business development manager.

Black River Produce opened their new plant three months ago and currently processes about four beef cows a week, along with hogs and lambs.

"We really wanted to custom cut things for our customers and that's what they were asking us to do, you know, what better way to do it than to build a meat facility," Buchanan said.

The facility currently sells meat in Vermont and other states throughout New England. Before buying livestock to be processed, they visit each farm to see how an animal is raised.

"We have people who do pastured pork as well as mix barn and pasture-based pork. We have folks who do grass-fed green, finished beef, which we're big fans of," Buchanan said.

Once the animals are slaughtered, the meats make their way to the plant and are then prepared for shipping to schools and restaurants. Right now, only a portion of the building is in use. The $3 million facility that was once a Ben and Jerry's factory will transform as business grows.

"We think the greenest building is the building that already exists, so rather than go out and build a new building, let's go out and find one that we can utilize to our needs," said Mark Curran, who owns Black River Produce.

Black River says the plan is to continue creating jobs in Springfield while providing another avenue for farmers to sell livestock.

"It keeps us moving animals so that we're not holding onto animals and trying to find places to sell them or taking what we can for them," Johnson said. "It gives us options."

And another option for farmers means the local market for meat will continue to grow for residents in the Green Mountain State.

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