There is nothing like farm fresh beef. I’m blessed to know this from years of buying direct from our farmer neighbors, but this year during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers had the same great experience. However, it put a strain on the state’s local meat processors.
Right now, in some areas, butcher shops are scheduling animal processing all the way out into August 2021. Frankly, they are swamped.
When the coronavirus started making headlines and there were claims that there would be meat shortages, consumers not only ransacked the meat cases at the grocery story, but they also started reaching out to farmers and ranchers.
Those farmers and ranchers then called on their local meat processor. Those meat processors became inundated with new customers and their workload increased.
Service to a small town
The local butcher shop played such a vital role in my upbringing. Every Saturday morning, my mom would grocery shop. Sure, we visited the Kroger and IGA, but she always stopped by the butcher shop. There wasn’t room in our home for a large freezer, so she bought shaved ham for lunchmeat and beef or pork steaks. It was just part of the tradition.
When my husband and I lived in Minnesota, we quickly purchased a deep freezer and filled it with local beef and pork products. (Being snowed in without enough food only happens once, my friends.)
We understood the value of these local butchers. But small meat processors declined as people chose larger retail chains. Then COVID-19 hit, and while much attention was placed on farmers filling the gap in food production, which is so very true, I feel the meat processor role, well, went unnoticed.
But leave it to pork producer and Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn to share with consumers just how much the small-town processing industry means to farmers, consumers, the state and the nation during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Thank you to the meat and poultry processors for working longer hours and extra days to help keep up and make sure our families were fed,” she said in a recent news conference. “You’re the perfect example of what drives Missourians to care for each other in the midst of challenging times.”
Such truth. And now it is time to help that sector of the food industry.
Funds for small meat processors
The Missouri Meat and Poultry Processing Grant, established by the Missouri General Assembly through this year’s budget process, provides a total of $20 million in CARES Act funds to smaller meat and poultry processing facilities that employ fewer than 200 people.
These meat lockers can use the funds for capital improvements, utility upgrades, livestock intake and storage equipment, processing equipment, packaging and handling equipment, employee testing strategies and more.
The reimbursement grant will be administered using a tiered system, offering up to $200,000 for each state and federally inspected establishment that also conducts slaughter. State and federally inspected establishments that further process meat and poultry products, but do not conduct slaughter, qualify for up to $100,000 in grant funds. Custom exempt establishments may receive up to $20,000.
Grants will be used to reimburse eligible expenses incurred from March 1, 2020, through Nov. 15, 2020.
Worth the investment
There are so many small businesses hurting economically from COVID-19. I’m glad our state is focused on a fundamental necessity — food.
I’ve been impressed at the level of CARES Act funding provided to farmers and ranchers already. However, that food we produce needs to be processed before it gets to consumers' tables, and for that we need meat processors and not just the large corporate ones — we all saw how those slowed during the crisis.
No, we need the small local butcher shop. The one that employs about 30 people and works through a crisis to provide food for your family and mine.
These grant funds are well placed. But long after they are used up and the COVID-19 crisis is over, we must encourage consumers to shop local, from farm to meat locker.
To learn more about the Missouri Meat and Poultry Processing Grant, visit the Missouri Department of Agriculture website.