Beholden to the behemoths no more: Mobile and modular local processing and opening local markets
Mike Callicrate said COVID-19 exposed a failed food system that is incapable of feeding people. That being said, his solution, he said, will ensure food security, reduce and decentralize abusive market power, ensure that farmers rebuild rural economies, and produce healthier and safer food.
Callicrate said he presented to groups in Colorado and Wyoming, both public and private, about bringing local food hubs to Cheyenne and other locations and putting local food on the plate.
By creating a publicly owned market that includes all local and regional goods carcass processing, cutting, a fresh counter, a mail order fulfillment center, cheese making, grain processing for flour, local spirits, and with processing and value-added capacity, he said producers could reach consumers. To ensure a fair market for these local goods, Callicrate recommended the local communities impart taxes or tariffs to big box stores.
“This is how we rebuild the local/regional food system model,” he said. “And you make big box stores pay penalties for the economic damage they inflict on these communities. That has to happen.”
Those funds, he said, could be funneled back to support local products, making it hard to do the wrong thing. Tariffs, he said, are meant to level the playing field.
“These cowboys are worked up about being vertically integrated, but they have it way worse than that, they’re giving away their ranch with every load of calves that leaves,” he said. “Contract growers aren’t doing that, they’re getting paid enough to live — barely.”
Ranchers, he said aren’t lucky enough to see a profit, transferring equity with every load. Farmer feeders, he said, are competing with big feedlots and bidding against them at the salebarn with an extra $130 per head kickback. This packer preference is a trap by the government failing to enforce anti-trust laws, he said.
“The thing is, we’ve got to stop the bleeding,” he said. “You’ve got to stop the big boxes and their whole model from destroying rural America.”
Part of the puzzle to make local markets accessible to producers is Bob Lodder’s mobile and modular meat processing units. Manufactured by Friesla, the units include equipment the USDA has approved in previous situations. There are currently about 35 units in use across the U.S. and Canada, especially outside the midwestern states where he said a concentration of large packers dominate.
Helping farmers and ranchers take control of their production, he said, is the goal of the units, giving producers an opportunity to control the sale and marketing of their product directly to consumers. These onsite meat processing units, he said, leave ranchers no longer beholden to the behemoths as the meat industry consolidates beneath the weight of big producers.
Systems are primarily kept in one location that is essentially permanent but there is a mobile harvest unit that could go from ranch to ranch. The unit could be situated on a ranch, at a feedyard, or even at an existing facility in need of expansion.
The building process takes approximately six months, are depreciable over seven years and don’t require building permits. Software and hardware to support product traceability and digital workflows with training available. The models range from start-to-finish capacity of 75 head per week to 225 head per week with a Kill and Bleed module, Meat Harvest Unit, Carcass Cooler, Cut and Wrap module, and a Finished Goods Freezer.
Ensured meat quality, lower transportation costs, and a reduced dependency upon larger, regional packing plants are the benefits of the modules, according to the website.
It’s a Friesla unit that kickstarted the meats program at Central Wyoming College in Riverton, though Jack Schmidt, the college’s Ag and Local Food Liason, said it’s COVID that has fueled the fire beneath the program. Schmidt said the need for the meat processing curriculum was identified several years ago by the college’s president, Brad Tyndall, who has a background in agriculture economics and international finance. The need for skilled processors, Schmidt said, was brought to the forefront during processing capacity challenges brought on by COVID and interest in the budding program is high.
“It’s interesting to me to see the possibilities this program has, and the interest ranchers have in perhaps not only marketing their own beef, but processing also,” he said. “When you think about it, this is really the first time ever that the producer has the chance to become vertically integrated on his own.”
Wyoming, he said, is home to liberal food laws, including Rep. Tyler Lindholm’s Food Freedom Act and an amendment for herdshares. He said it will be interesting to see how the USDA responds to the growing need for inspectors in a climate that values both food safety and economic development.
Concerns about COVID have complicated fall plans for class scheduling and capacity but Schmidt said he hopes students will begin meat processing class in the fall.
Wyoming First Lady Jennie Gordon has created a market for local foods to be utilized at food banks and focused efforts toward easing hunger throughout the state through her work with the Wyoming Hunger Initiative. A partnership between the Initiative, Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Food from the Farm + Ranch will also benefit from the program at CWC. While details are still being finalized, Schmidt anticipates that donated cattle will be harvested, halved, and chilled in the college’s Friesla mobile unit and taken to the University of Wyoming to be cut and wrapped for use by the food bank.
Gordon was joined by Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, the WSGA, and the WDA in their tour of Ranch Foods Direct in Colorado Springs, Colo., a company owned by Callicrate, that utilizes mobile slaughter units. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 768-0024.