Burk Ridge Farm’s new USDA-Inspected On-Farm Slaughter service
fills a gap for local meat producers.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CUSTER, Wash. August 1, 2014 — Since Burk Ridge Farms was opened to the public, its beef and pork products have been in increased demand. The locally owned and operated business is about to take its next leap — opening a butcher shop and storefront as well as adding a mobile processing unit that provides USDA-inspected on-farm slaughter service.
The farmfamily partnership, owned by Michael and Devin Koenen, along with Devin’s parents, Vern and Joann Dykstra, raises and sells grass-fed beef and pasture-based pork. For months, customers have been asking for smaller beef cuts as well as packaged products. But when the family was ready to answer that demand, they found limited availability of USDA-inspected meat-processing facilities in Whatcom County.
“Our vision for our farm is providing highest quality possible of beef, pork and chicken to customers, and in order to sell cuts individually, it has to be processed at an USDA-approved facility,” Michael Koenen says. “We didn’t find a lot of options, so we decided to take the bull by the horns and do it ourselves. The need by farmers in Whatcom County has been there for a long time.”
The farm has invested in a mobile slaughter unit that will be available to local farmers. Because the animals will be processed on individual farms and the process will be closely monitored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the mobile unit will eliminate many of the concerns raised by traditional slaughterhouses.
Burk Ridge Farms will require farmers to meet specific requirements such as using a composting system, encouraging them to replicate the natural cycle.
“When you have a fixed facility, you’re aggregating the inherent problems in one space,” says Fred Berman, a Northwest Agriculture Business Center project manager, who has previously worked with farmers at the WSDA for several years.
“With a mobile unit, all the nutrients that are not being consumed (the offal) stays on the farm,” he says. “If it’s properly composted — and that’s what conscientious farmers do because they want to be good stewards — then you maintain those nutrients and return them to the soil in a beneficial way. It creates a closed-loop cycle.”
Another advantage of a mobile processing truck is the fact that it leaves valuable agricultural land to be used for its intended purpose. They don’t create a big footprint or require a large, concrete parking lot to operate.
According to the USDA, the consolidation of the meat industry since the 1980s has limited options for small farms and niche producers. On the other hand, consumers are becoming more interested in buying their food locally and supporting sustainable small businesses. As a result, farmers have faced challenges in recent years with making their products available to the public.
That is also true in Whatcom County, where the lack of infrastructure has severely limited farmers’ capabilities to sell value-added products.
“I get calls regularly from producers trying to figure out where they can have their animals processed,” Berman says, adding that sheep and pork producers don’t have any choices locally. “It’s very fulfilling to know there’s now an option. Michael has created much-needed infrastructure that will be utilized by many producers.”
Mobile slaughterhouse units became the answer to the processing-infrastructure gap about 10 years ago, and the concept was pioneered by a cooperative in Northwest Washington. For the past decade, more and more mobile units have come online and the USDA has implemented several initiatives to support this innovative approach to local farming.
A major issue for local meat producers is the distance they would have to transport their animals to a slaughterhouse, which creates significant stress in the animals. Using a mobile unit allows for more humane treatment, as well as significantly increasing the quality of meat.
“We have some really good farmers in our area. We want to provide our farmers with a way to offer product to consumers in a feasible way,” Koenen says. “Right now, most people truck their animals to an auction as far as Oregon. Why can’t we have beef or pork raised in our community? It’s fresher and it can be raised by small farmers who put love and hard work into their farms.”
Whatcom County has an estimated 250 small farms. The county’s only USDA-approved slaughterhouse as well as a co-op with a mobile unit available to members have both struggled with issues of capacity.
Ben Elenbaas, who owns Farmer Ben’s in Lynden, estimates that less than 4 percent of beef produced in Whatcom County is actually consumed here. The rest is trucked out of the state, eliminating any potential impact on the local economy. Yet farmers like him have a waiting list for their products.
“The sky could be the limit on how much locally produced beef we could have,” he says. “But processing is definitely the limit.”
Elenbaas raises and sells grass-fed beef, pastured pork, chickens and eggs. He has had to limit his beef sales to half- and quarter-sizes because, he says, “USDA slaughtering is hard to come by these days.”
“For a guy like me, value-added products are crucial to having a long-term future,” he says. “There’s a huge demand in Whatcom County, especially because of the locavore mindset. People are very interested in knowing their food source and knowing their farmer. It gives a face to their food.”
For the Koenen family, controlling quality from start to finish has been a guiding principle. Koenen says their goal is to provide the highest quality product to the local community, and to do that they needed control over the entire process. The planned butcher shop will be the final step in that vision.
“We’re trying to bring a model of controlling the quality of the product inside and out — and we’re allowing other farmers to do the same thing,” he says. “We want to give other farmers the same opportunity we have.”
About Burk Ridge Farms:
Burk Ridge Farm is a pasture-based, multi-generational family farm in Lynden, Washington, owned by Michael and Devin Koenen, along with Devin’s parents, Vern and Joann Dykstra that raises and sells grass-fed/finished beef and pasture-based pork. Burk Ridge Farms uses rotational grazing methods to produce exceptionally delicious and healthy products. We are committed to raising healthy natural food for Whatcom County and supporting local hard working farmers by helping them make their products more available to the local community.
Orca Design Group
Original Release: July 09, 2014
Updated Release: Aug 1, 2014