Liberating Sustainable Beef Producers in the Northeast

Goodlifer: Liberating Sustainable Beef Producers in the Northeast

At Scott Stringer’s NYC Food & Climate Summit this past winter, one issue that was consistently brought up was the complete lack of slaughterhouses in New York State. Even though land in this region is ideal for pasturing and grazing cattle, farmers have to schedule appointments as far as a year in advance (not even knowing if the cattle will even be ready on this date), and transport their animals to facilities Pennsylvania or Massachusetts. For grass-fed, humanely raised cattle, this is a less-than-ideal end-of-life scenario, and the beef cannot be certified organic (because all kinds of meat share the same facilities).

Say what you want about whether or not we should be eating meat, but the fact is not everyone is willing to give it up. Grass-fed, humanely raised beef is a much healthier option than “conventional” beef, raised in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations). We should do what we can to improve the infrastructure and make it easier for cattle farmers to raise and “harvest” cattle the right way. Dan Barber, Executive Chef at Blue Hill Stone Barns and local food advocate, says that “Slaughterhouses are the single most important thing that farmers in the region need.”

The Mobile Harvest Unit, recently launched by Glynwood. Photo via The New York Times.

Glynwood, a non-profit organization in the Hudson Valley working to save farming, along with its affiliate Local Infrastructure for Local Agriculture (LILA), recently launched a mobile, modular slaughterhouse — the first of its kind. Currently docked in Delaware County, NY, the Modular Harvest System (MHS) is an innovative, next-generation approach to the humane slaughter of livestock. Dan Barber called this initiative is “the most important thing Glynwood can do.”

Grassfed cattle grazing in the Hudson Valley. Photo by Ulla Kjärval.

“We believe that the MHS will help ensure the future of livestock production in our region and beyond,” says Judy LaBelle, President of Glynwood. “From the very beginning, Glynwood has envisioned the development of this unit to be a model for replication. We know there are other regions with situations very similar to the Hudson Valley, where a mobile unit might well be the catalyst for a revitalized system that will enable smaller farmers to reach the rapidly growing market for regional, pasture-raised meat products.“

Newly sheared sheep on the pasture at Glynwood Farm.

Christine Muhlke wrote about a visit to the MHS for the New York Times’ Sunday Magazine:
“I wasn’t allowed in during a kill, but I was able to watch the Red Devon cow I’d just admired in the holding area be led calmly up the ramp and into the trailer. The wild thrashing that followed triggered primal fear and sadness, which caught me off-guard considering that I’m that obnoxious meat hipster who serves pickled pigs’ tongues at her wedding. Silence. Then blood began trickling from the pipe. When I entered the gory trailer at the end of the day, the quarters of four cows dangled neatly in the cooler.”

Killing is never a good thing, and it is far from the quaint, pleasant side of farming that we have seen much of lately. Some critics say that forcing a large frightened animal into the 8 by 53 feet MHS trailer is neither easy nor humane. But, for organic grass-fed beef producers it could be the answer to their prayers. Consumers now gladly pay a premium for good beef, and the MHS makes it possible to satisfy this demand. USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is supportive of the initiative that will help further his goal of repopulating rural America by creating more market opportunities for small farmers and strengthening the connection between local supply and demand. “We have to make sure that producers are capable of getting critical mass to meet consumer demand,” he told Muhlke. A mobile slaughter unit seems to be the best possible solution at the moment.

Glynwood Farm, located outside Cold Spring, NY.

Glynwood Farm, located outside Cold Spring, NY.

Located an hour and a half drive north of New York City, outside the town of Cold Spring, Glynwood Farm is a very quaint peaceful place. The working farm and institute are both dedicated to helping communities in the Northeast save farming — the MHS is only one of their many initiatives. I visited on a gorgeous day to help celebrate the farm’s 15th annual Sheepshearing Day. The actual shearing was a fairly quick occurrence, although it was quite funny to see the newly “naked” sheep grazing in the pasture afterward. We were also treated to a beekeeping lecture, a greenhouse and garden tour, a felting demonstration, ice cream making for the kids, as well as a delicious lunch. I would highly recommend a visit if you happen to be in the Hudson Valley.

Top photo by Ulla Kjärval

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
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