I’m overdue for an update on the 1915 Meatery, our very own in-house whole animal butchery. The project has been in the making for a couple of years now, beginning with the decision to buy some acreage close to three-phase power to build our very own processing plant. After looking inward, running the numbers, and talking to experts, we realized a full blown processing plant (USDA inspected, where we would harvest our livestock along with other ranchers’ livestock), not only would likely be too much on Tanner and I, but the debt load and pressure to make the plant financially feasible would likely create a damper on our family life.
As Tanner and I have grown together in our entrepreneurship journey, we’ve realized our personal headspace holds great importance and the stressors of a processing plant would likely take the joy away from what we love to do – running a regenerative farm where we get to care for livestock everyday, and have the privilege to see where the fruits of our labor end up – on your family’s table. It’s truly the absolute best, most honorable position I could wish to hold, and we are incredibly grateful to be those stewards along with our wonderful small team here at 1915 Farm.
Walking around the future 1915 Meatery before we closed escrow on the building
Making the decision to nix the processing plant plan brought us a sense of relief, but also a little sense of loss. It took us back to the drawing board, a familiar place as an entrepreneur. We knew we needed to navigate through and find another way, because we just didn’t see using outside butchers for the life of the farm. We have so much respect, honor, and appreciation for our livestock and felt this urge to have more responsibility and control over the butchery aspect. Tanner and I both carry this constant weight of questions like, are we doing right by our livestock? Are we honoring them as much as we possibly can? Livestock are not commodities, despite them being classified as such in the United States.
When researching and writing The Big Meat Dilemma and Lab to Table (please take the time to read if you haven’t yet), I observed America as a society straying further and further away from the things that truly matter in life – replacing health with cheapness, craft with quickness, and care with convenience. When it comes to meat, this has not only snowballed into foreign companies having ownership over most of the meat we consume in America, but has contributed to our meat system becoming more and more consolidated and industrialized, resulting in a more cruel and less sustainable environment for the livestock.
1915 has always been a passion project – starting with learning that raising livestock in their natural environment actually creates a better tasting and premium product. We knew that if we wanted to continue to grow the farm while simultaneously maintaining control and the level of care we require of ourselves, that a butchery would be the next step for us.
Quick sidebar: for those that don’t know what small farms like ours do when it comes to processing our animals – we use outside small independent meat processors. This consists of dropping off livestock, filling out a cut sheet, then picking everything up after it's been vacuum sealed, frozen, labeled, and boxed.
After listening to our shared intuition and pivoting from the processing plant idea, it raised some very important questions Tanner and I have asked ourselves many times as we have grown and taken on new facets of our business, a rather simple series of questions: What excites us? Where can we make a difference? What really matters?
Whole animal butchery, once a sought-after, valued, and respectable trade has been replaced with massive foreign-owned slaughter plants filled with poorly treated immigrants working an assembly line, packed shoulder to shoulder, oftentimes tasked with producing one single type of cut per animal for their entire shift. Gone are the days of whole animal butchery trade school programs, apprenticeships, and certification courses (though there has been a bit of a resurgence the past few years). These type of education opportunities and jobs still exist with major cultural importance all over Europe.
As the meat industry in America consolidated and the retail butchery sector dwindled, the skill set of the workforce began to die off, and with it the craft of whole carcass utilization, and ultimately the knowledge of the consumer as well. Due to the industrialized model of scale and efficiency we talked about in The Big Meat Dilemma, the trickle-down effect began with meat counters at grocery stores replacing local retail butcher shops, then whole and 1/2 carcass shipments were replaced by “boxed beef” (pre-cut primal and sub-primal sections), and finally culminating in easy to grab, cellophane pre-packaged meats replacing the grocery store butcher counters with the introduction of “case ready” meats.
Walling off the Retail Area of the 1915 Meatery
The repercussions of that shift resulted in a near eradication of the “local butcher shop." Each step in the process pulled the consumer further and further away from the source of their meals. In a system that values efficiency and speed over skill and craft, the consumer benefits in the form of lower prices, but ultimately less choice. Americans have an appetite for Filets, Ribeyes, and NY Strips – a mere 10% of the animal. Prized cuts like the Bavette, Picanha/Coulotte, Oyster Steak, Hanger Steak, Denver Steak, Tri-Tip, Flat Iron, Ossobucco, and Flanken Ribs are often tossed into the trim pile, regarded as another inefficiency in the system, never getting the opportunity to receive the attention they deserve.
Final remnants of the Circle K gas station have been removed!
Based on a USDA study from 2010, it was estimated that Americans throw out or waste 26% of meat at the retail and consumer level, which leaves me wondering – if meat was either more expensive or consumers were closer to the life and death of the meat that provides essential nutrients to their families, would so much be tossed in the trash? Or left to spoil?
Completed Cut & Wrap Area of the 1915 Meatery
Sometimes I'm in disbelief that we are actually "doing the dang thing" – something we've had our eyes and hearts set on for quite some time. We're human, and when I get a little anxious about all the newness, I look inward and remember "our why," knowing that while there will likely be bumps along the way, we are truly doing some of the most important work on this earth. While we are grateful for the outside butchers we have used, it's time. It's time to do the cutting and packaging in house. With the regulatory path we have chosen to go, we will be comparable to a neighborhood butcher shop (not that there are very many). Our shop will be retail exempt, which means we cannot sell a lot of wholesale to restaurants or grocery stores. We will also not be able to butcher other ranchers' livestock. We will continue going to a USDA and/or state-inspected facility for the harvesting, then bring the carcass to our shop, following the regulatory approval of course.
It's absolutely surreal that the 1915 Meatery is almost ready to open, after 10 months in the making. We are so excited to continue bringing you along on the ride with us – thank you for being invested in the 1915 Farm journey!