I Believe…

In the Burlington Free Press newspaper Sunday edition Green section there is an article by yours truly. It is part of a series of “I Believe…” The editor had given me the writing assignment a couple of weeks ago so I had some time to mull it over. It was an interesting angle to think about things from.

Our son Ben snapped this photo of the construction in progress by the early morning light. It shows our butcher shop project with the marshes and mountains in the background. It is in just the right place for efficiency on our farm, at the end of the pasture rotation cycle. It means that our livestock won’t need to be loaded on the truck each week for the three hour drive to the butcher. That means less stress for them and gas plus time savings for us. Customers will get the assurance of higher quality, healthy meat with less carbon footprint.

I have read of complains in various newspaper articles about other slaughterhouses being built and the NIMBY factor. The problem is generally the facility is being built in someone’s back yard who doesn’t want it there. Well, we’re building it in our front yard instead. This way nobody else is inconvenienced. We, the owners and workers (we’re both) live right here next to the building. Wouldn’t it be grand if all business owners had to live right next to their production facilities? Imagine if BP’s president and other executives had to live next to his refineries. Imagine if the president of Exxon had to live on the beach where the Valdez spilled. I’m sure the world would be much better off.

Ironically our new meat processing facility is barely noticeable to people. It blends into the hill and is almost the same size as the hay shed that it replaced. When we’re done construction, it will just look like one more stone barn in the countryside. Just the other day someone who was supposed to have seen it drove by looking for it and couldn’t find it. That is successful blending into the landscape.

The wooden forms you see in the photo will eventually be removed. They are not part of the final structure. In fact, there is no wood in the final structure. The reusable forms which Ben and Will built last year and the year before are like a giant jelly mold. We used many of them on the greenhouse the year before. In their position here they are already filled half way up with concrete and rebar to form the monolithic masonry structure. In future years we’ll reuse these same forms on many other projects.

Because it will have such a large thermal mass inside the insulating envelope it will be highly energy efficient. Like our tiny cottage we’ll be able to transfer the energy of one season over to another. With the cottage we retain the summer heat for winter and store incoming passive solar heat. With the butcher shop we’ll be time shifting winter’s cold into the summer months and dumping the day’s heat to the night sky. This will save on our electric bill. Capitalism works great – The cost of energy is a wonderful incentive to save.

Soon we will make the next concrete pour of our super-insulated refrigerated section and the lairage subfloor. We’re saving our pennies from timber sales, weekly pork sales and the incoming CSA Pre-Buys. Each pour runs about $3,000. Step-by-step we’re closing in as we head for winter.

For more details on our big project progress check out this article.

Outdoors: 67°F/55°F 2″ Rainy — We needed that!
Tiny Cottage: 72°F/71°F

Daily Spark: Make Change.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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18 Responses to I Believe…

  1. Janice of VT says:

    Hi there! I got here from the bfp article! I love your meat. I get it at city market. please keep up the great work and I look forward to when you have your slaughter place up and going. It is such a good idea! I will ad you to my blog list and come back to visit! Janice P

  2. Jake says:

    Hey Walter thank you for being there! I have followed your No Nais blog for years. I am just a consumer. I don’t farm but I really like that you do what you do from farming to conservation to your sharing on your blogs. I see this project of yours as the wave of the future. We need to get back to small scale agriculture and small scale butchers and local grocers and all that good stuff that keeps our local economies going rather than sending our monie out to china or brazil or the other far away places. Keep making meat!

  3. Rick Anderson says:

    I saw your great opinion piece in the free press. Loved it. Great web site here. I will look for your pork in our local coop. I see it on your store list. I am really glad to have this sort of thing going on. We need small farms. As you said a million of them are better than just a few big farms. My wife and I had stopped feeding our kids meat because of the whole BSE BS until we hooked up with a local farmer buying cuts of his pastured beef. Ironically he and your prices are lower than the supermarket prices for beef and pork at the meat counter. I don’t see how you guys do that. Efficiency of pasture I guess. Hes having the same problem though of slaughter. I hope you will do slaughter for other farms.

    • Thanks for supporting your local farmers. Remember to support all your local businesses too. There’s a whole web of your neighbors and you are part of that too. It all comes back around.

      There is a myth that local food costs more and that industrial food costs less. It is not always true. With the large scale producers they also have many middlemen each taking a bite. It goes:
      Commodity Buyer

      With small local farms the more typical pattern is:
      Farmer who is generally the labor and manager as well
      Store – maybe unless it is a CSA in which case this is really the farmer too

      In the case of the small local farms a lot of transport is being cut out of the equation, the whole idea behind local, and a lot of the middlemen are being cut out of the process. The result is food dollars flow more directly to the farmer.

      Of course, there are manager specials at the super market, the foods that are about to go out of date and get discounted. Those shouldn’t be compared with the prime quality foods at all. All too often the Anti-Local crowd will use the manager special pricing as their example when what they need to compare with is the prime meat at the counter, not the lesser cuts nor the almost out of date food.

      The best way to save is buying a whole animal. You can do that with another family to split the volume being purchased down to something manageable. A whole pig is only about three cubic feet – think three milk crates. Split between two families that will even fit in a small freezer. Be adventurous and eat nose-to-tail like the farmer’s family!

  4. Mic says:

    How can you do it for $150k when all the expoerts in other articles say it costs $2.5m and even the mobile slaughter units cost $250k?

    • There are a lot of factors that make it so that we can do it much less expensively:

      1. Since it is on-farm the permitting is simpler.
      2. We already have the land so there is not that cost which could be significant.
      3. We have an existing starting foundation and grade work since we started with an old hay shed. See the post on location.
      4. I’m the architech and engineer which saves a great deal and lets us build a better facility to fit exactly our needs.
      5. We’re providing all the labor – a big cost in any construction project.
      6. We’re composting the offal rather than having to have a big waste treatment plant. This also has the benefit of returning all those nutrients to the soil of our mountain which improves the sustainability of our farm.
      7. We’re just starting out with one species – although later we may do others for our farm. To setup for all animal species at once would be more expensive.
      8. We’re just doing animals for our farm which simplifies loading docks and such.
      9. Our facility is very small – just what we need. See the post on capacity.
      10. Since we do Just-In-Time farming and processing we need very little in the way of storage space.

      I suspect that the reason the mobile units are so expensive is that they must be built light weight enough to transport on the roads yet strong enough to withstand that. This means more expensive construction materials in addition to the tractor or pickup truck to haul the mobile unit. Different materials for different applications.

  5. Susan says:

    I really appreciate this. I loved your article in the Burlington FreePress Paper. Very lucid. Your doing good for all the right reasons and it sounds like your doing well by doing good. I like that. I am an onagainoffagain vegetarian because I don’t like the way that factory farmed meat is produced. But then factory farmed vegges don’t seem to be any better with all the recalls for spinach, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, lettuce, eggs and other ones we have had so it isn’t just a meat issue there. I will look for your pork at our coop.

  6. Jessie says:

    This is way off topic, but I am wondering if you have done any research on aquaponics? I find the topic fascinating. On the one hand, I love the idea of a nearly closed nutrient loop with fish waste fertilizing plants that are used to feed the fish, people, and clean the water, all without chemical fertilizers, hormones, pesticides etc. Supposedly aquaponics affords the highest plant and fish yields per square food of any farming technique, so it could be used to have tiny urban farms in every neighborhood. On the other hand, growing plants in gravel, fish in a densely stocked tank, and the whole system being dependent on pumps seems unnatural and rather factory-esque. What do you think?

    • Actually, aquaponic systems is something I’ve done a lot of work in, both hands on and reading. I am a long time fresh water, marine and coral reef hobbyist. Eventually I would like to build a really huge sea-on-the-mount tropical reef aquarium here. I will never go to Fiji or Bali, to the Great Barrier Reef or the like. Having aquariums is my way of studying these environments and the biological systems of them which encourages conservation through knowledge and research. It is a great teaching tool in our homeschooling as well. Cultivation of corals, plants, fishes invertebrates is something we can do here even in our climate. See a photo of one of my clowns and Anemone here.

      As to actual production, that is something we’re exploring but it is on a pond basis using native fishes. Right now we’re learning about trout. They eat tadpoles and insects plus meat we feed them. Part of the idea is that fish might be a good way to use some of the ‘waste’ meat from our butcher shop. Chickens and worm culture are other ways. The hens certainly love the meat in the winter when the insect populations are gone.

  7. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    I’m fascinated with the idea of ponded crayfish, as consumers of otherwise “waste” protein like chicken guts and heads and the unsausageable detritus of on-farm slaughter of bigger beasts. Also with bullfrogs or something similar, and using vermiculture under rabbits as a food stock for those. I sometimes get to sketching frog development channels. One of those things for when I get back to the land.

    John Stossel, on Fox News, whom I usually love, because we are in the same Libertarian groove, just blasted doctrinaire “locavores” as self deluding. But you make good points as to lessened costs both to consumers and to the overall economy of locally produced foodstuffs. And of course, fresh and clean tastes better!

    Did you follow the economic arguments for farm-distilled ethanol in the Original Mother Earth News back in. . . the late sixties? They were making the point that grain that has been fermented and then had the alcohol extracted (they advocated solar distillation) is eleven to thirteen percent more nutritious for meat and milk production after the alcohol yield, having become “Brewer’s Grain”. With some intelligence and a lot less regulation, our nation could be locally self sustaining not only as to food, but fuel!

  8. Hi Walter,

    Kudos for you for taking processing into your own hands. If we didn’t have access to a great processor in Eagle Bridge NY, we’d be out of luck.

    What happened to your blogroll, Walter? Voting in the primary today?

    • Aye, we’ve said the same, that if we lived next to Adams Farm Slaughter we wouldn’t be doing this. They do such a great job. When you find a good butcher, treasure them. But it is one of those challenges that will make us stronger in the long run. :)

      We just got home from voting. This was our son Will’s first time to vote and he had researched all the candidates very thoroughly. He took his oath and did his duty. Since only a small percent of the people vote every vote we cast counts extra. All the more reason to take the time!

      The blog roll was a casualty of switching from Blogger to WordPress. Unfortunately it doesn’t convert over automatically. There are ways to do it in WordPress but I haven not had the time yet. Blog-wise I’ve been working on filling in the menu bar items up above like “Lit”, “Cook”, “Contact”, “Animals” and such each of which have sub-pages. Gradually I’ll get everything over here. I miss the ease of the old blog roll that I had setup.

  9. In the morning after the primary I’m seeing something amazing: a four way split for governor. I’ve never seen such a close election!

    From the Times Argus newspaper story:

    Wednesday 2010 08 25 9:15 am tally:
    Doug Racine – 17,411 votes (25%)
    Peter Shumlin – 17,336 votes (25%)
    Deb Markowitz – 16,929 votes (24%)
    Matt Dunne – 14,448 votes (21%)
    Susan Bartlett – 3,616 votes (5%)

    Earlier it had been even closer with the top four candidates within about 1% of each other. More votes are still to be counted. Sounds like we need a runoff between Shumlin and Racine. This is too close.

  10. Alice in Wonderland says:

    Walter I love your new top photo. The piglets were cute but this flower is fantastic. Especially how it is so sharp in focus but fades out in the back. Very very intense!

  11. Update on Vermont voting since the question of the primary came up above:

    12:08 p.m. – With 260 of Vermont’s 260 precincts reporting, including 73,059 votes, Peter Shumlin won the Democratic gubernatorial primary on the strength of late-reported southern Vermont votes. His margin of victory is 178 votes, with all towns and cities reporting. Deb Markowitz finished 390 votes behind Shumlin. To request a recount, the margin for victory must be within 2 percent, which is true in this race.
    Peter Shumlin – 18,244 votes (25.0%)
    Doug Racine – 18,066 votes (24.7%)
    Deb Markowitz – 17,854 votes (24.4%)
    Matt Dunne – 15,100 votes (20.7%)
    Susan Bartlett – 3,795 votes (5.2%)
    Times Argus

    I’ll bet you there will be a recount… I’ve never seen a vote this close between two never mind four candidates. We need a runoff between the top two, maybe even top three as it is too close. The other 26% of the voters need a chance to make the decision. This is why instant runoff ballots are a good idea.

  12. Neva Galle says:

    I have been following your blog for some time and this is the first time I have commented. It may have been answered before, but it is possible to barter some of the cost for the slaughter house with product?. Help in someway- cost or labor- for meat? It occured to me when you mentioned you are trying to save pennies etc. Just a thought. My husband and I are considering farming with orchard type of product- berries and apples and the like and we enjoy your enthusiasm

    • An idea but the only problem is we’re sold out every week at the stores and restaurants. What we’re doing is gradually growing our herd. I don’t want to go faster than we have the ability to manage so we ride the cusp of the wave.

  13. Maggie May says:

    Holly is so lucky to have you. I hope she cherishes you. The life you have created there on Sugar Mountain is what I and many others have always dreamed of. Never lose your dreams and please please keep sharing them with those of us who are still just dreaming.

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