I’m sitting at the Washington DC airport after a 2-day fly-in with NFFC (National Family Farm Coalition). A group of about 40 farmers and advocacy people flew in from across the country to speak up for issues that are important to small farms, like access to on-farm slaughter and land access.
I was there with two other Vermonters, on behalf of Rural Vermont to advocate for on-farm slaughter.
Here’s the low-down on what my team was working on.
Currently the state of Vermont has made laws for on-farm slaughter according to guidelines from the USDA. These guidelines, written in 1908, state that farmers that raise animals on their farm have the right to slaughter them there.
Vermont has interpreted this law to mean that people who own an animal have the right to have them slaughtered on the farm they were raised. A person can purchase a pig or cow from a farmer, the farmer can raise the animal, and the animal can be slaughtered on the farm.
In Vermont this is done by professional itinerant slaughterers and then transferred to a state-inspected facility to be aged, cut, and wrapped. There are many rules and requirements that go along with this, that can be found here.
During the pandemic and all of the supply chain issues that came with it, the state of Vermont doubled the amount of animals that could be slaughtered on one farm per year to 10 beef animals, 30 pigs, and 80 sheep.
It’s worth noting here that on-farm poultry slaughter has been legal in Vermont since 2007. When changes were being proposed in state law this year to allow for chicken parts to be sold in addition to whole birds, the health department said they didn’t even need to weigh in because there hasn’t been a single food safety issue since on-farm poultry slaughter was introduced.
Here is the challenge.
In 2022 USDA sent an undated, unsigned letter to Vermont threatening that they might re-interpret the guidelines and decided that on-farm slaughter as it is currently legal in Vermont, may become illegal.
We were in DC advocating for the words “raised by” to be changed to “owned by”. It seems a small thing, doesn’t it? Here’s how it affects farmers.
Here’s is how this bill affects our farm.
We currently bring all of our animals to a USDA facility. And before I go on, I want to say that this is no insult to our USDA facility. We appreciate them and the hard work that goes into this business. We realize these issues arise from high-turnover and difficulties in running a profitable small slaughterhouse.
Ok, onwards. For more than a year we have been unable to get our organs and beef cheeks back from the slaughterhouse.
Sometimes our rib-eyes are trimmed WAY too much. Sometimes things get cut differently than we ask.
All of these things add up to at least $300 per animal that we are not getting back from the slaughterhouse. That’s about 5% of each animal. I don’t think I need to tell you that missing out on 5% of our income is somewhat devastating to a small farm. (If we didn’t have Airbnb income, this could actually be detrimental to us.)
If we could confidently move towards on-farm slaughter, we would be able to be present for every step of the way in the slaughter and butcher process. Not only that, but our animals wouldn’t have to go through the stress of being loaded into a trailer and driven to a strange place to be processed.
Here is how this bill affects another farm on our team.
Palo Blanco Farm and Ranch is a Latino owned farm in Laredo, Texas. The land has been in their family for 160 years, although it has not been an operating farm for a couple of decades. Sister and brother pair, Marcella and Manuel Juarez, are reviving the farm.
Their farm is located one hour from the town of Laredo. It is considered a “food desert”, the poverty rate is twice the national average, and many people are suffering from diseases like Diabetes because they don’t have access to nutrient-dense foods.
They would like to start raising beef on their farm, but the closest USDA processing facility is three-hours one way. That’s six hours driving time to drop the animals off, and six hours driving time to pick the animals up. Let’s say $50/hr for gas and time. That is $600/trip.
As a small farm they might be dropping off one animal per month to feed their community. That’s about $1.75/lb for transportation costs, which is a huge limiting factor in their community.
Yes, they could bring more animals at a time but that requires frozen food storage facilities that they don’t have access to at this time.
Add this to the fact that you often have to make an appointment 1-2 years out at a USDA facility.
This on-farm slaughter bill would be life changing for them and their community.
So, what exactly were you doing in DC?
We were meeting with Senate and House staffers (people that work for the Senators and House Reps), to state our case. Our bill already had a champion in the Senate, Peter Welch, and we were trying to find a co-sponsor in the House.
We met with 5-6 offices each day. Caroline from Rural Vermont and Antonio from NFFC would state the official lingo and what we were trying to do, and the farmers would each speak to how it affects their farm.
It was a process that gave me back a bit of faith in the Democratic Process. It was amazing to meet with both Republican and Democrat offices and have them genuinely ask what we needed and how they could help.
Of course we got stonewalled by a couple of offices on both sides. But we made amazing progress.
Shortly after we left, we found out that our bill got an official name. The Livestock Owned by Communities to Advance Local Food Act (LOCAL Foods Act)!
This was huge news for us and something that all of the offices asked about! They wanted verbiage on the bill and to know the name of it before they would commit to helping. Now Rural Vermont and NFFC will be following up with these offices to gain a co-sponsor.
How can you help?
The most important takeaway I went home with, was that we as citizens of this country have power in the laws that are written.
We can contact our representatives and it actually matters. We were told that for every small farmer and advocacy worker that goes into those offices, at least 10 agri-business lobbyist goes in to work against us.
If you’d like you help, you can sign this petition. You can have a real impact on moving this bill forward for small farms. How cool is that!?
If you have questions or comments, reach out to me: email@example.com.
From the hills of Vermont,