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Chicks at Renee Smith's farm, DeKalb Junction, NY. Photo: Julie Grant
Chicks at Renee Smith's farm, DeKalb Junction, NY. Photo: Julie Grant

Local chicken processing gets USDA cerification

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The North Country local food movement just got a big boost. The ribbon was cut Thursday on a new, USDA-certified, mobile poultry processing unit.

The project is owned by a group called North Country Pastured - and full disclosure - NCPR general manager Ellen Rocco is part-owner.

The new unit provides poultry producers a way to have their birds processed locally, and certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Reported by

Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

Hundreds of downy, yellow chicks chirp in the barn at Renee Smith's farm in DeKalb Junction.

Renee Smith, at the opening of the Mobile Processing Unit. Photo: Julie Grant.
Renee Smith, at the opening of the Mobile Processing Unit. Photo: Julie Grant.
Smith and her husband starting raising birds only a three years ago. She says they soon started hearing from other North Country farmers - they had to send poultry out of state for processing to get it certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "So, that was what - it was the need from other people saying I want to be able to be USDA, how can we do this? Do you know of anyone? And that's when my partners and I decided to see, maybe there's something we can do."

The ceremonial opening of the mobile slaughterhouse. Assembly member Addie Russell, NCPR GM Ellen Rocco, Syracuse University Professor Rick Welsh, Clarkson University President Tony Collins, Canton Town Supervisor David Button, St. Lawrence IDA CEO Patrick Kelly. Photo: Julie Grant
The ceremonial opening of the mobile slaughterhouse. Assembly member Addie Russell, NCPR GM Ellen Rocco, Syracuse University Professor Rick Welsh, Clarkson University President Tony Collins, Canton Town Supervisor David Button, St. Lawrence IDA CEO Patrick Kelly. Photo: Julie Grant
They just cut the red ribbon, on a new USDA certified, mobile processing unit. On the outside, it looks like a big white camper. But on the inside, it's all stainless steel.

The birds are brought in on one side, cleaned, and sent into the next room, "...from there, they're labeled and weighed, and then they go into the freezer," Smith explains.

All the processing will be overseen by a USDA inspector.

Syracuse University food studies professor Rick Welsh, who lived in the North Country for many years, co-owns the mobile unit. He says the USDA label will make a huge difference for producers and consumers.
"Up until last year, there was no USDA certified poultry processing in New York State. All the chicken that we eat, ate, came from out of state." Welsh says many North Country chicken are sent to Pennsylvania and other states for processing.

New York's(and the nation's) first USDA certified mobile processing unit. Photo: Julie Grant
New York's(and the nation's) first USDA certified mobile processing unit. Photo: Julie Grant
Poultry processed in New York has mostly been sold at farmer's markets and similar places, because the USDA cerification hasn't been available. He says a USDA approved poultry processor opened recently in Croghan. And now the mobile unit is ready to start moving.

The USDA label opens local chicken to bigger buyers.

Clarkson University President Tony Collins co-chairs the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, which fully funded the mobile processing unit, to the tune of $130,000 dollars.

Collins grew up on a poultry farm, and sounds excited about the possibility of buying locally raised meat. "So, an institution like Clarkson, we have to serve our students USDA approved products. So, inevitably, we were out of state. Now just down the road, institutions like Clarkson, St. Lawrence, the two SUNY campuses, they can purchase USDA approved protein."

If universities, schools, and supermarkets start buying local chicken, it could mean brisk business for local chicken producers. Some local food advocates say the big buyers will only get on board if the price is competitive. That's often an issue with any kind of locally raised food.

Rick Welsh of North Country Pastured doesn't think they'll have any problem selling North Country raised and processed chicken. "We have done surveys of local retail outlets and local institutions, and we think there is plenty of demand for more than we can even produce. We cannot produce enough to meet the local demand."

Project supporters say that demand will encourage more small farms to raise chickens, and help return the North Country to its roots as a poultry producing region.

Disclosure note: NCPR station manager Ellen Rocco is a partner in North Country Pastured, the operators of the mobile poultry slaughterhouse.

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