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A slaughterhouse in Westport

Carolien van Oijen

When Meatworks opened in 2018, Sarah Cogswell was one of the first animal producers to show up:

"I raise about three or four pigs a year, and when Meatworks opened up, it was just an amazing opportunity for small farms. Like I could drive the animals myself. I didn't have to hire anyone or to transport far away, and really get to know the facility."

Before Meatworks opened, Sarah was bringing her animals to Vermont.

"There's a lot of producers here that raise one or two animals in terms of like beef or pork a year for themselves, their families, and they can utilize custom slaughterhouses, which means that you're not reselling it, you're using it for your own purposes," Sarah explains. "So there's several of those in our area, meaning Massachusetts and like southern New Hampshire, Vermont area, Connecticut, even. But if you want to sell your product to your—to another customer, you need USDA inspected facility. So having that was crucial and that was what the region was lacking."

A certified local slaughterhouse operated in nearby Dartmouth Massachusetts until 2007, but after that closed, there was no local USDA certified slaughterhouse in our area for more than a decade. After spending several years getting to know Meatworks as a producer, Sarah decided she wanted to work there and in 2020 became the executive director.

"One of the coolest things about Meatworks is that we were designed for small farm. So, in other words, we're offering services to farms so that they can sell to the end consumer. So folks will come to farms and say, you know, I want this, this and this. And so it's really, working with the farmer on the cut sheet for what those customers are asking for, and it also varies seasonally."

In the winter, Sarah says most cut sheets tend to focus on roasts and stew meats, whereas in the summer farmers are more likely to request ground meat for burgers and sausages, or cuts that can be cooked on the grill. The majority of farmers pay Meatworks to process their animals and then sell frozen cuts directly to customers at farmers markets. But they also have the option to sell whole animals straight to Meatworks, which operates an on-site retail store. And recently, Meatworks has started selling ground beef from animals raised within 50 miles to public schools in Westport, Dartmouth, and New Bedford.

"And it’s been really successful, in 2022 we sold over about 10,000 pounds of beef to them. Yeah, so it’s an opportunity for small farms if they want to sell us their beef, that’s really cool, it’s another revenue stream for them, but also connecting to schools with this kind of affordable local meat product that they can kind of interchange into their menu rather than USDA meat," Sarah says.

"You know so we understand their budget and so we kind of work with them on prices and since we process it, we have that ability."

Westport Public Schools are now also experimenting with local stew cuts, and Sarah hopes the number of local schools involved will keep expanding. She’s been involved in the local food movement in southeastern Massachusetts for decades — Sarah used to be the director of the SEMAP, or the Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership — and says that seeing this USDA certified facility come to life has really changed the economic landscape in our area for the more than 400 small animal farmers who use it.

"What that means for small farmers is we can sell across state lines now, we don’t have to stay in Massachusetts, we can sell at farmers markets, we can sell to schools if we’re big enough, so on and so forth opportunities for sales just really increase. So that means if your sales can increase, you can produce more. And so it’s keeping farms working, and keeping agricultural lands in agriculture. That’s really what we’re all about."

Find more here:

Livestock Institute: https://www.thelivestockinstitute.org/

And Meatworks: http://www.meatworkswestport.com/

This piece first aired in March 2023.

An avid locavore, Elspeth lives in Wellfleet and writes a blog about food. Elspeth is constantly exploring the Cape, Islands, and South Coast and all our farmer's markets to find out what's good, what's growing and what to do with it. Her Local Food Report airs Thursdays at 8:30 on Morning Edition and 5:45pm on All Things Considered, as well as Saturday mornings at 9:30.