Sticking to the 100-mile diet and the slow food movement just got a little easier for people on southern Vancouver Island with the opening of a new custom meat processing service.
Operating out of the existing abattoir at Valley View Farm, 10 kilometres south of Nanaimo, the Vancouver Island Heritage Foodservice Co-op has opened Island Ideal Meats to kill and process livestock for small Island producers.
"This is a service people have been asking for," said the co-op’s Grant Henry. "We think this is a very positive move for the Island. There is a need for this if we want to maintain cattle and livestock production on the Island. We need to have a place for producers to take their livestock to slaughter and have them cut and wrapped."
The abattoir is a federally inspected Class A facility, which allows for resale of the meat that is processed.
Currently, there are six Class A or B red-meat processing plants on southern Vancouver Island and two Class A or B poultry meat plants.
"By opening this facility, it’s one more barrier we hope to have out of the road for Island livestock producers and farmers," said Henry.
The 20-head capacity abattoir is open to all Island producers and, according to Henry, will handle beef, veal, lamb, goat, emus, rabbits and buffalo.
Island Ideal Meats will kill animals on Wednesdays each week and process — cut, wrap and freeze — on another, with hopes it may expand that service. Henry expects they will very quickly be up to capacity, 20 head of beef cattle or 40-50 lambs per week.
The meat will then be returned to the producers who can use it themselves or sell to restaurants, stores and individuals.
Paul Hadfield, owner of Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub, and one of the first to provide locally produced food, is a supporter of the Island increasing its food production. He said the new service is important.
"We absolutely have to have the capability of processing products that are grown on the Island in order for the industry to grow," he said. "The interesting challenge today is we work at such smaller scales than farming and agriculture used to.
"It’s no longer about economies of scale and consolidation, it’s now about variety and enabling smaller-scale operations to have an opportunity for success. And by virtue of that, we will end up living in a much richer environment with more people growing more things, and that ultimately means when there is a problem, like with Maple Leaf Foods, it is isolated and becomes very small.
"So in terms of food security, [a new abattoir] is hugely important."
Small abattoirs faced challenges, and some closed shop, after the federal government introduced tougher regulations and required operators to upgrade their facilities following the mad cow disease scare in 2007.
But with senior levels of government now sharing costs by providing grants, facilities such as the one used by Island Ideal Meats managed to meet the new inspection standards.
It’s all a sign the Island is moving in the right direction, said Hadfield.
"Years ago, we had a couple of suppliers. Today, we have 30 local ones that bring stuff to our door," he said. "It’s really important that we as a society do what we can to enable these people, as opposed to laying obstacles in their way."
Henry said the new service will also be looking to expand eventually to include a produce processing plant, enabling the co-op to create a variety of meat-and-vegetable products they can sell.