Foothill counties are dotted with ranches like this one where cattle graze on rich grass, but the nearest USDA certified processing facilities are hundreds of miles away. If ranchers want to directly market their livestock to customers, restaurants, or grocery stores, the meat must be processed in a USDA facility.
Calaveras GROWN, with funding from a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant, is working on assessing the feasibility of establishing a multi-species livestock harvest and/or processing facility in the foothills. The grant covers El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mariposa, and Merced counties. It is aimed at determining what facilities are most needed and some ideal and plausible locations, as well as plans for the business, funding opportunities, marketing, and education visions for the most desirable facilities.
The foothill counties included in the grant have well-above-average unemployment rates when compared to the state as a whole. The hope is that a livestock facility would not only help local ranchers and encourage local food production, but also create jobs and help build local economies.
A steering committee has been working together for several months to lead the process. So far the committee has mapped out an ideal zone in which to build new facilities, focusing on accessibility to both foothill ranchers and larger valley livestock producers that could bring needed business. The committee has also looked at several specific sites for a new or repurposed facility including Ione, San Andreas, and Valley Springs. They are working with a list of necessities for the facility including room for dry aging beef, and have come up with a tentative floor plan to follow as they move forward.
The group is also researching the upgrade of current state-certified facilities to USDA. Carina Bassin, project coordinator for the grant, recently went on a trip around the Central Valley and foothills, visiting harvest facilities and processing plants and even two high schools with meat cutting programs. On the trip she also visited with staff members of the Sierra Foothill Conservancy, which has created its own cattle herd and brand of grassfed beef that is being marketed locally. The grant encourages this kind of innovative thinking, using groups and commodities that are already available and building a facility with the cooperation of community and existing industry members.
The grantees are focused on working with local ranchers and existing meat facilities in hopes of reaching an efficient solution that supports those businesses rather than competing with them.
For a repository of information gathered by the grant so far, visit www.calaverasgrown.org and click the “Livestock Resources” page. If you are interested in getting involved, have a skill or information that might help, or would like to be on the e-mail update list, please contact Carina Bassin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-304-2844.