It has a cryptic name: The Cruse Meats Harvest Facility.
It has a use that some people may find unsettling: Its where livestock mostly cows, pigs, sheep and goats will come to end their lives before they become steaks and sausage.
But when the new building opens Thursday on Rimer Road in Concord, it will be worth a celebration that includes a barbecue and speeches by officials such as N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.
This is definitely a big step, says Casey McKissick, director of N.C. Choices, an organization that supports environmental farming, including the steady growth in locally raised meat.
The big step is a 4,500-square-foot expansion to Cruse Meats, a family-owned business that already packages meat. The new facility will make it Cabarrus Countys first large-scale, state-regulated meat processing plant, expected to get animals from 10 counties.
That makes it a big improvement over what hundreds of farmers have had to do for years load animals on trailers and drive for as long as four hours to reach processing facilities in Taylorsville and Browns Summit.
The trips added labor and fuel costs for farmers, but also were hard on the animals, adding stress that affected the quality of their lives and their meat.
By making farming more difficult, it also limited whats available in the fast-growing, local-foods arena.
We dont have, in our area, a good way to make sure that local meat goes directly from producer to consumer, says Debbie Bost, the Cabarrus County extension director who has spent four years working on the project.
Processing facilities were not only far away, they have such high demand that farmers might have to wait months for an appointment.
If you had planned to harvest an animal this week, you had to find a way to keep that date, Bost said. But (in a heat wave like this one), with the stress of moving and trailering, an animal could have been killed in transport.
The plant will mostly handle beef cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. Farmers raising chickens also had struggled with reaching distant facilities until two years ago, when the state eased restrictions on how many chickens could be processed on a farm each year.
Putting the money together
At Circle D Beef in China Grove, Sheri Deals family hauls their cattle just over an hour to Mays Meats in Taylorsville. Deal said theyll probably continue for a while before switching to the new facility. Circle Ds beef is sold at Bradford Store in Huntersville.
The proximity of a processing facility is important, she says. The reality of a facility being so much closer has real potential for farmers in this area.
Getting the plant took four years and several sources of money. First, Cabarrus County got a $675,000 grant, one of the largest ever, from the N.C. Department of Agricultures trust fund for farm land preservation.
Then the county matched that with money that had been earmarked for tax incentives for Philip Morris. When the tobacco company announced it was closing, that made $400,000 available to split between the meat facility and the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm, another Cabarrus sustainable-agriculture project.
Finally, the county gets money from an innovative program, the only one in the state, that supports sustainable agriculture with three years worth of tax incentives paid back when farm land is sold for development.
That still wasnt enough to cover the cost of the waste-water treatment equipment needed. So the cost of processing each animal will include a fee until a county loan is paid off.
More farmers, more meat
Bost expects Cruse to get farmers from a 10-county area, including Mecklenburg, Union, Stanly, Anson and Gaston counties, and from farms that range from five cows or a few pigs to larger herds.
The plant probably wont lower the price for meat, but it is expected to have an impact on other things, particularly on the number of farms that want to get into the business and what theyll be able to offer.
I think youll have a greater variety of local meat, Bost says. Youll have additional farmers that want to get involved. And that will increase the quality of the meat that will be available.
Despite the tough economy, the higher cost for locally raised meat apparently hasnt reduced the demand. At Circle D, Sheri Deal says they have increased the number of cows they earmark for their customers at Bradford Store every year but they still run out long before the end of the year.
The growth has been dynamic and strong, says Casey McKissick, who has a farm in McDowell County and works with farmers all over the state through N.C. Choices. When people are forced to make economic decisions in the household, theyre still choosing to spend a little more on food that they know where it comes from. Theyll cut back on restaurants or cut back on travel.