A recently-passed bill will create more licensed butchers in Minnesota, supporting the Northeast region and keeping farms connected to consumers.
While Minnesotans’ appetite for locally-processed meat is as hearty as ever, the unfortunate reality is that small-town butchers are fewer and farther between than ever before. Two-thirds of the owners of small Minnesota meat processing facilities are at or near retirement age, with only one-third with succession plans. Compounding the problem, the entire Northeast section of the state is void of meat processing facilities, forcing farmers to travel long distances for processing.
“There’s a need to take some action here and make sure that we don’t lose this vital part of the agricultural infrastructure,” said Paul Hugunin, Agricultural Marketing and Development Division Supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in an interview with MPR News. “These are businesses that are very, very important to Main Street Minnesota, throughout the state of Minnesota,” he said. “Our livestock industry in Minnesota is very significant economically, but you have to have the processing in order to make that work.”
Thanks to a bill passed by the Minnesota State Legislature, an answer to the shortage will soon be provided, thanks in part to a correctional facility in Saginaw, Minnesota.
The Northeast Regional Corrections Center is a minimum-security institution and 3,200-acre work farm that started in the 1930s. Each year, around 600 short-term inmates serve time and help grow crops, and raise chickens, turkeys and pigs on the property. The center also provides vocational training along with education and treatment programs.
The recent bill will take the work one step further, allowing inmates to earn their butcher’s licenses while behind bars through a formal pilot training program, giving them an opportunity for employment in meat processing after they complete their sentence.
“This exciting opportunity fulfills the Food Charter goal of creating a vital, lasting food infrastructure that can grow the food and farm economy. As a grass-fed beef producer with no processing facility in the entire northeast region, this new facility will provide skilled jobs that fill an important gap in our food supply and meet the needs of meat producers. The bill very cleverly addresses many chronic problems all at once. It will help small farmers and producers grow their businesses, resuscitate idled infrastructure, help reduce recidivism, and ease the butcher shortage. Kudos to Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-6B) for his leadership and the legislature’s bi-partisan support.” – Jeanette Leehr, grass-fed beef producer.