Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Meat and Greet: Shumlin Tours New $9M Slaughterhouse, Processing Facility

The sprawling white factory on Fairbanks Road has produced everything from machinery that made plastic bags to Ben & Jerry’s Peace Pops.

But in its new life, the former Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. building will be converted to a state-of-the-art slaughterhouse and meat processor, as well as handler of top-end seafood and lobsters.

On Monday, Vt. Gov. Peter Shumlin donned a hairnet and white butcher’s coat and went into the chilly cryovac room at Black River Meats. He asked Mark Curran and Steve Birge, the owners of Black River Produce and Black River Meats, questions during his tour of the building, which is still under renovation. The new $9 million facility will start full operation in June.

Shumlin viewed the beginning foundations of the new holding pens for the slaughterhouse, designed by noted animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, Curran said.

From there, the governor was led through a series of rooms with high ceilings, white walls and red floors.

The project is a joint venture of Black River Meats and Vermont Packinghouse. Black River Meats is itself an offshoot of Black River Produce, which has its headquarters about a mile away on Route 106.

Arion Thiboumery, managing partner of Vermont Packinghouse, couldn’t resist a photo-op, and handed the governor a pig’s head, complete with ear and snout.

Shumlin, like any good politician, smiled and posed for the cameras.

Thiboumery, who has a doctorate in sustainable agriculture and meat science, will be renting space in the new slaughterhouse and processing facility. He came to the North Springfield facility from Minnesota. Black River will market the meat as well as work with area meat producers to produce more animals.

Shumlin later said when he first became governor, Vermont farmers faced an enormous shortage of meat-processing capacity. That problem has been solved, he said.

Thiboumery said the meat facility would add 60 new jobs to the local economy within the first five years of operation. He said the facility was still looking to hire meat cutters or those who had some training in that field.

Shumlin later touted the renovation at Black River Meats at a joint luncheon meeting of the Springfield Rotary Club and the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

Black River Produce rang up $64 million in sales last year, Shumlin said, and $22 million of that was “born and raised here in Vermont.”

Shumlin said the Black River company had renovated a dilapidated building: The building’s roof had caved in and had been heavily vandalized. The town, which had acquired the building in a tax sale, sold it to Black River Produce.

The governor called the Black River Meats facility “unprecedented” and said Black River was going after large supermarket accounts for the meat coming out of North Springfield.

“Locally grown meat is not just for hippies any more,” he said.

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