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A few articles in the month of January on mobile slaughter units around the country caught our attention and got us asking questions. Why is there a need for mobile slaughter facilities? Could the answer lie somewhere in the nation’s largest beef recall? Where are their successful mobile slaughter facilities in this country? What did it take to get them up and running?

And some of you might be asking: what in tarnation is a mobile slaughter facility?

Mobile slaughter units are processing facilities (there are poultry ones and also ones for meat) that can travel from farm to farm. Mobile units are cheaper to build than permanent facilities, and allow groups of small farmers to band together to use the facility for small groups of animals. In addition, these units are appealing because they don’t live in anyone’s backyard (NIMBY syndrome is huge with slaughterhouses).

There is a need for mobile slaughter facilities in this country because everything is being geared more and more towards the large-scale producers—this is both with grains and livestock of course—so that there are very few processing facilities for small farmers, making the market increasingly favorable to large industrial operations and less and less favorable to the little guy. All the little ones are gone, and in their wake? Large facilities that are geared for huge numbers of animals. Also, similarly to all the neighborhood Mom and Pop shops giving way to big box stores, this means you have to travel farther to get to them, sometimes prohibitively so.

In the wake of health scares and disturbing meat recalls, we are seeing an increasing demand for sustainably raised, grass fed meat, but if there isn’t an infrastructure to support these small farmers—i.e. if there aren’t processing facilities for them to use—then how will the demand ever be met? How will people, on a large scale, ever have a viable alternative to industrially-produced meat? In order to get product to the people, you have to have infrastructure to scale. You need to build the facilities for small and mid-scale farmers to get it to their market share.

The first mobile slaughter facility in the country was started about ten years ago on Lopez Island off the coast of Washington State. Their reasons for building a mobile unit were very particular to their island status: farmers had to go off island to slaughter and then bring the meat back to the island. This wasn’t cost-effective, so most people just brought their meat to the mainland and then sold it there. The ironic result was that the island was having a food access issue; the meat was being raised there but not eaten there. Solution? A unit on the island.

(This post is a series of short posts that will explore what it took for Lopez to get this unit rolling, and see how it’s working today.)