Something To Chew On - Proposed Slaughterhouse in Mendocino County

As part of my job at The Gardens Project, I have begun to write a weekly column for the Ukiah Daily Journal entitled "Something To Chew On." The column will explore topics related to the local food economy in Mendocino County, with hopes that it will generate much needed thought and discussion on how to create a sustainable local food economy here. Last week was my first column and it addressed the proposal of a slaughterhouse in Mendocino County. I hope you enjoy reading it one tenth as much as I enjoyed writing it. I'll post the column I write every week on the RealDirt Blog, so stay tuned. Thanks! - Lucy

This is the first of a new weekly column about the movement to localize the production and consumption of food in Mendocino County - the local food movement.

A bit of background: I moved to Ukiah in August (instead of San Francisco) because here I can know the people who grow my food, and because I obtained a job as an AmeriCorps VISTA with The Gardens Project, a fantastic spark of a non-profit working to increase access to fresh local produce in Mendocino County through community and school gardens. The Gardens Project also helps support the local food movement in Mendocino County in general, and my job is so awesome that I am going to write this weekly column as part of it. So, here goes:

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors heard a presentation from the Economic Development and Financing Corporation (EDFC) about the potential of a slaughterhouse in Mendocino County. The proposed slaughterhouse rejects the modern, indecent slaughterhouse model we know from driving I-5 and passing the atrocious Harris Ranch. The facility proposed for this County is instead relatively small, environmentally benign, and employee friendly. The facility would process meat from Mendocino and surrounding counties, taking advantage of the growing niche market that is local, ‘natural’ meat as the grape industry in The County reaches a saturation point and timber is increasingly uncertain. The EDFC stated that the facility would not be in the Ukiah Valley.

The audience at the meeting was largely wearing cowboy boots and Carhart vests and favored the proposal, calling ranching the ‘green economy.’ One local restaurateur remarked that “the closer to home we produce our food the better off we’ll all be, no matter what you eat.” Fewer audience members stood to voice concern and criticism, citing the unsustainability of a heavy meat eating society, skepticism over the ‘local’ nature of the project – “it’s just changing the direction the trucks are driving” – and over the economic feasibility of the proposal, questioning whether there is enough livestock in The County to support the facility.

Negative karmic implications of creating a facility intended specifically for death aside, I’m in favor of the idea. The proposed facility would increase livestock production in the county, encouraging responsible land use and alleviating the dangerous monocropping of grapes in Mendocino County by grazing livestock between vineyard rows. It would create new jobs and a product the county would be proud of (if done right), and take advantage of the resources we have available to us.

But I do wish the slaughterhouse would be located as close to downtown Ukiah as possible, with glass windows, so that people understand the reality of their meat consumption. I also hope the 44 jobs created at the slaughterhouse will include a position solely responsible for the spiritual aspect of the process – leading the animals to their death in a way that honors and respects life. And it seems like the real challenge will be finding investors to take on the $18 million project, so perhaps a cooperative business model should be considered? This could be the most radical, humane, life affirming slaughterhouse in the United States, and it seems more likely for it to happen in Mendocino County than anywhere else.

The Mendocino County Local Food Summit took place this Wednesday at the Redwood Fairgrounds. Over 100 policymakers, health advocates, farmers, food buyers, concerned citizens, and more gathered to hear presentations on the state of our local food economy and brainstorm steps necessary to make it stronger so that health and wealth stay within The County. In his presentation entitled “Local Foods as Economic Recovery,” world renowned food economist Ken Meter specifically recommended pursuing livestock and dairy as sustainable industries in Mendocino County.