Among the many challenges our food system is facing in light of COVID, meat processing is one of the most dire. The closing of large packing plants like Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, S.D., has resulted in livestock euthanizations and limited supply of meat for consumers. Small-scale processors have scrambled heroically to reconfigure supply chains, leaving local farmers and homesteaders with few options for their own butchering needs. Most glaring are the social inequities within meat packing plants, which depend on a steady flow of refugees and immigrants who work for low wages in questionable conditions.

This summer, the Cass Clay Food Partners have explored potential solutions to this tightening bottleneck in our highly-centralized meat processing system. In addition to changes in state and federal policy, there are community strategies that should not be overlooked. Local assets such as the North Dakota State University meat lab and other educational institutions could become pipelines for entrepreneurs to develop new business models such as mobile processing units. City and county ordinances can be investigated, and even changed, in order to expand the ability of farmers and residents to process their own meat.

As an individual consumer, you can help with this issue in three simple ways.

  • Become informed and educate your friends and family about where our food comes from and why food shortages exist.
  • Get more connected with that system by getting to know farmers and neighbors right here in the FM area who commute to work in meat processing plants like Jennie-O in Pelican Rapids, Minn.
  • Advocate for change in local, state and federal policy to make it easier for individuals and businesses to play a role in the meat processing system.

Together, we can create a food system that is better for everyone.