True & Essential Meats, Harrisonburg VA

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A few weeks ago a small group of us spent a sunny afternoon at True & Essential Meats in Harrisonburg. A slaughterhouse. (A small, local one.) On a kill day. Really.

Owner Joe Cloud spent two very generous hours showing us his operation, answering umpteenthousand questions, and teaching us about what goes into putting food on America’s table each and every day. Some of the surprising things we learned:

  • Cows are huge!
  • Cow tongues are huge!
  • In the springtime when all the cows are eating grass, the meat processing room smells a little like freshly cut grass. Crazy!
  • One of the biggest challenges for small-scale meat processors is operating within an industry that is extremely vertically integrated. Even equipment suppliers and rendering companies are now mostly controlled by the biggest processing companies.
  • Finding skilled labor is another major challenge for small-scale operators. Local training programs for highly-skilled meat cutters are really rare.
  • New USDA regulations treat small and very small meat processing businesses much like the big guys. Joe explained that new regulations issued in March 2010 will require onerous constant testing for small processors, even those with spotless records of operation, and will cost small processors tens of thousands each year.

Joe, thanks for an educational and inspiring afternoon. We are so grateful that there are dedicated people like you and your team, working long hours every day to produce good food, serve local farmers, and support a vibrant local economy.

We’re looking forward to thanking you and all the local hands that feed us at our 100-mile Thanksgiving potluck celebration in just a few weeks!

Friday, November 19th. Mark your calendars, friends!

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