On Monday, Mary and I traveled South for a WA state meat processing working group in Olympia...a meat meeting. Steakholders. Ha. After the meeting, we hopped over to Jerry Stokesberry's Sustainable Chicken Farm outside of Olympia for a Tilth Producers Farm Walk.
The meat meeting was a follow-up to a preliminary meeting held at the Small Farms Team Retreat in early April. The goal of THIS meeting was to determine whether or not there was sufficient support from the attending organizations to move the group from under the Small Farms Team into its own working group. Looks like we have another group formed! For now, the primary functions of the group are: to support the Puget Sound Meat Producers Co-operative (PSMPC) and their effort to build a USDA Inspected mobile slaughter unit; to wade through the language of the various regulations and connect with the regulatory agencies to compile a useful document that will help everyone (producers, buyers, processors, etc.) understand more about local meat production and processing; and to establish a collaborative network that will act as a sounding board and informational clearing house for future meat processing projects.
It was a fun meeting for me, because every time I think that I have my head wrapped around one of the many issues that we're trying to tackle, I'm presented with another angle/new information/different regulations/alternative approaches. I guess I'm learning that, while it's all part of the larger "food system", each issue has its own flavor and nuances. For instance, I did some research about the USDA and how to get a processing facility certified. It seemed fairly straightforward. Little did I realize the politics behind the curtain of simplicity. Turns out, you CAN call the number listed on the website to try and get someone to come out to inspect your operation, but you'll most likely end up verbally sparring with a series of machines. To actually get someone with enough inspection clout to encourage moving the process forward, you need to work the politics...start flipping through the rolodex to see who you know, who might know someone who is in the know. Sorry. I guess I feel a little flummoxed.
Many of CHC goals are simple and make sense to those with ample common sense, but often, the simple goal is shrouded in complicated regulations, contracts and sub-contracts, local vs. state vs. federal agency policies, and too many acronyms to count. Yes, many of those layers are installed for our own good ( ex. health dept. standards), but some of them seem gratuitous. Am I railing against government? Maybe a little, but my point is that these projects take a lot of behind-the-scenes moving and shaking and anytime the local food movement can claim success it means that a lot of people put in a lot of time to make it happen. One example is the recently passed Local Farms, Healthy Kids bill. That effort was built on guts and conviction. It took a lot of people from a lot of different groups working together to get that thing off the ground and into State Law. Hopefully, the PSMPC will be the next shining example of victory.
Okay, that's all for now. More to come on Thursday.
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