After one local farmer discovered the uphill battle of attempting to open a new meat processing facility to serve meat producers in the area, a public meeting to drum up support for the future of abattoirs in Kingston and surrounding areas took place on Wednesday, Jun. 30, 2021 at the Food Less Travelled parking lot in Verona.
“There’s a two-year back-log to process animals,” said Dave Perry, owner of Perry Farm in Harrowsmith and Food Less Travelled, a specialty grocery store located at 6674 Road 38 in Verona.
“Farmers [have been] calling me— [they] are at their wit’s end. Some animals can’t wait that long, they’re past their prime. They have customers who don’t understand why they can’t get their products when they need them,” Perry said.
The biggest challenge is the lack of sufficient abattoirs — a slaughterhouse for animals produced for meat — in the area. Retiring abattoir owners often find it hard to sell their businesses to new owners.
Once an abattoir closes, it puts more strain and demand on the facilities that are still operating.
Quinn’s Meats in Yarker almost closed without a buyer, until current owners Darold and Kara Enright bought the business, in part because they were having challenges finding an abattoir to process their own poultry, according to Perry.
Cory and Shanna Priest, owners of Thorpe Farms in Odessa, have been trying to build and develop a new abattoir near Lennox and Addington, but have faced roadblocks such as escalating construction costs and unexpected expenses.
Perry said that their budget had skyrocketed from $3.5 million to over $5 million after building materials costs have escalated, as well as Hydro One’s charge of an extra $1 million to bring power to the site. Moving the site to a different location with existing hydro connections, such as within Frontenac county, might be a solution for them, according to Perry.
“They want to see how much support is behind developing this,” he said.
Demand for locally-produced food
Even before the pandemic, the demand for abattoirs had been steadily building. The local food movement had been gathering momentum for years, but there’s no capacity to process the animals raised locally.
“Kingston is at the forefront and took the lead on [the local food movement], too,” Perry noted.
When asked about the possibility of getting a group together to bring all the animals and drive them to Guelph — where the bigger processing plants are — Perry shared some of his insights as a local farmer serving a local customer base in the current climate:
“As a farmer trying to sell local food, it doesn’t make sense for me to raise an animal here, truck it all the way to Guelph and get a similar product for the consumer to eat. You have a product right here, you just can’t get it processed. There’s a missing link.”
The larger processing plants require truckloads of animals to process, and they do not accept smaller orders. Once the animals are accepted for processing, a farmer does not end up with their own products to take home, Perry explained.
Compounding that issue, most abattoirs are fully booked until the fall of 2022, he said.
“If you can’t process them locally, you can’t get them processed in neighbouring towns either.
There’s no other avenue for farmers,” Perry expressed.
One step forward, two steps back
Perry met with the former agriculture minister Ernie Hardeman last year about the challenges farmers are facing. He said that Hardeman visited farms and was putting together a working panel consisting of small abattoir owners to get their input. Hardeman was also working to streamline the regulatory processes of abattoirs until the pandemic hit, which put plans into hiatus, Perry said.
With the recent shuffle by Premier Doug Ford, Lisa Thompson replaced Hardeman as the new agriculture minister.
“I still don’t know if (Hardeman’s initiatives will) take place. He was really positive about this.
Another hurdle, sometimes you think you’re making headway,” Perry noted.
How can the government help?
According to Perry, regulations for abattoirs get more cumbersome each year. One of the ways the government can help is to come up with funding to help businesses like abattoirs.
“Funding [was granted] for COVID-19 restrictions. [However], you can’t get to full capacity [processing] because of COVID-19, it adds to the backlog,” said Perry.
For a few years, Perry supervised an abattoir. He said that there are safety rules mostly put in place for the large processing facilities that process 2-3,000 head per day. The challenge starts when they try to mould those same rules into small processing facilities, where, in Perry’s opinion, some rules are not “necessary.”
Public support urgently needed
The meeting Wednesday, Jun. 30, 2021 served as a means to drum up support for farmers, brainstorm ideas to solve the challenges, and create a solid plan for the future of farming and food processing in the area. According to Perry, about 70 people attended the meeting with “a pretty good showing from each division” of the local agricultural community, and a wide variety interest groups. With a general sharing of information taking place, Perry said he was pleased with the turnout, and with some of the ideas presented and generated.
“We’re in dire straits. Lennox and Addington Economic Development Officer [Tracey Snow] was there and talked about the things they can do. They’ve already done a survey about producers… it’s good to have that information compiled,” he said, noting that the meeting included a presentation from Priest about what his plans are with diagrams of the layout of the building he currently has in mind. Perry also noted that another such meeting will take place in the near future, however, a date for that meeting has yet to be decided.
He hopes that farming community members, business owners and local food supporters will reach out with ideas moving forward, and noted that he and Priest would like to partner up with someone who could help finance the plans for a new local abattoir in the future.
“We’re just thankful we have the consumer support for local food. Hopefully,we can come up with some ideas to get this moving, get this finalized, and overcome hurdles,” Perry said.
“It was quite positive, and we’re going to start moving on as soon as possible. It solidified the thought in our minds that we’re not alone — that everyone needs us.”
And, as Perry points out, the immediate need for the new processing facility isn’t one that’s about to subside.
“[Abattoirs are] going to be needed for several years in the future, not just in the next couple of years,” he said.