I do not want to support a CAFO with my meat purchases. I would like to purchase beef and chicken from a farmer in the Midwest who utilizes a mobile processing unit. Can you provide me with any resources or farms who allow their animals to live out their whole lives on the same farm?
Your question actually contains several things that have to be answered separately, so I hope you won’t mind if I give you some overview of the situation with direct farmer-to-consumer meat sales.
There’s a lot of space in between CAFOs and farmers who use mobile processing plants. In fact, there are currently no licensed mobile processing plants that I’m aware of that operate in Minnesota. There are a handful of mobile poultry processing units that are used by farmers for on-farm processing of chickens and turkeys. The regulations are a little different for poultry; see more below.
There are three different classes of meat processing plants:
USDA inspected — these can be any size, but the largest plants that source animals from CAFOs are always USDA plants. That is because USDA inspection is required for shipping meat across state lines.
State Equal-To inspected — these can also be any size, but tend to be smaller and to serve farmers who sell direct to customers. There are 24 of these in Minnesota. Meat processed at these plants can be stamped as inspected and sold to individuals or food businesses within the state, but generally cannot be shipped across state lines (there are limited exceptions).
Custom-Exempt plants — these tend to be small shops that exclusively serve farmers and customers of farmers. There are approximately 275 of these in Minnesota. Animals processed at these shops are not inspected at the point of slaughter. The direct relationship between farmer and customer substitutes for the official inspection, and animals must be pre-sold before going to slaughter. The farmer cannot take possession of the processed meat and sell it by the package; it has to be pre-sold to customers who will take a quarter, half, or whole animal; or some other defined amount.
Mobile processing plants would have to be in one of the above three categories of meat processing plants. There are a number of challenges with mobile processing, especially related to use of an approved source of water and approved means of disposal of offal and of wastewater. Most farms are not set up to provide an approved water source and an approved wastewater disposal system to be able to have a licensed mobile processor come to their farm. Most farmers who raise their animals on their farms, not in a CAFO, and sell directly to customers, use either an Equal-To plant or a Custom-Exempt plant; or a small-scale USDA plant that caters to farmer-direct sales.
What that means is the farmer raises the animal until it’s ready for slaughter, then hauls the animal to one of these plants where it is slaughtered and processed. Usually the processing happens the same day as the hauling; but a limited number of plants have livestock pens so that they can accept animals the night before and slaughter the next day. Then, depending on the farmer’s marketing situation, they will either have customers go to the plant to pick up the meat — or will pick up boxes of customer orders and deliver those to customers — or, if the farmer is set up to market cuts of meat (with freezer facilities and getting inspected slaughter at an Equal-To or USDA plant), the farmer can take possession of the meat, store it in their approved freezers, and sell it by the package.
The situation with poultry is a little different. Farmers are permitted to do slaughter and processing of poultry themselves, on their own farms, up to 1000 birds per year — if the customer comes to the farm to pick up the processed birds. Some groups of neighboring farmers have pooled their resources to put together a mobile processing unit that they transport between the farms to do this kind of processing; but many farmers who do on-farm poultry processing also have their own set-up on their farm.
Therefore, it is fairly easy to buy poultry that has never been trucked to a slaughter plant.
It is also possible to buy red meat from an animal that was killed on the farm, IF you buy from a farmer who uses a Custom-Exempt processing plant that does not have a kill floor. Some of the smaller and older Custom-Exempt plants do not have the facilities to slaughter animals. In that case, the animals are killed, skinned, and eviscerated on the farm, and the farmer hauls the carcass in to the Custom-Exempt plant. You will have to ask that question of the farmers.
To find farmers who sell meat directly to customers, I would suggest that you use the Minnesota Grown directory. www.minnesotagrown.com
The majority of farmers listed in this directory raise their animals primarily on pasture and/or in outdoor pens because they know that is what most customers want. Usually the farm descriptions given in the directory will tell you whether that’s the case; or you can ask those questions of the farmers when you contact them.