Organic Meat Producer Under Attack In Wisconsin

A lawsuit filed in Dane County, Wisconsin, earlier in July alleges that Black Earth village trustees abused due process and targeted the organic meat company, denying it the ability to use its property as a slaughterhouse. Black Earth Meats is asking for $5.3 million in damages. Slaughterhouses do not provoke happy images to be sure — but no slaughterhouses, no steak.

Problems between the man often referred to as the “zen butcher” have been ongoing for several years, most of the angst involves the growth of the business. Black Earth Meats is reportedly one of the few in the entire nation that is Animal Welfare Approved, certified organic, and USDA inspected. The facility had been a butcher shop for decades before Bartlett Durand purchased it in 2008.

Bartlett Durand, the owner of the organic meat company, had this to say about being forced to close his business:

“By forcing me out without paying, they’re making the value of the business disappear. I was up to 47 employees, with a business ready to take off, investors interested, banks interested. They’re suddenly taking away the engine that drives the whole thing. Most of the people in the village have been very supportive of us. A few neighbors are not. This is a tragedy. I am devastated that seven years of work building up a local meats infrastructure is destroyed with this unthinkable act by the Village Board. I am stunned by their actions. More personally, I am concerned for all our business partners and those who support us and them, that it will be much more difficult, and expensive, to get good meat. I am concerned that this will set back the progress made in local food systems in the area. I am concerned that the model we have formed and proven out will not have the chance to duplicate and change the way we grow and distribute food.”

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The organic meat company was forced to close after being deemed a “public nuisance” by a local governmental agency. On July 18, the Black Earth Meats company was told by the company’s bank that the financial institution would not be able to renew their note due to the ongoing actions by the town, a $1.3 million USDA loan for equipment and operating expenses was also lost.

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Elected officials in the village of about 1,300 people have claimed that slaughterhouse operations on residential street is a public nuisance and a series of citations from deputies backs up their stance. The street where the business is located is zoned for grocery-retail. Slaughtering was permitted as long as the company’s “footprint” which was established in 1973, did not grow larger. Before the village told the organic meat company to relocate in 120 days, a series of solutions by a contractor chosen by the village to figure out a solution were never acted upon. Black Earth Meats does about $6 million to $9 million in sales per year.

Residents complained that animals waited “long periods” in trucks, animal parts left after slaughter were poured into truck and some remnant pieces or blood fell onto the street. Durand created a “good neighbor committee” and thought all involved felt that the alleged issues were resolved and a line of communication were now easily available.

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Durand said the meat business was struggling and open just one day per week. When he bought the business, he decided to take a different approach to keeping the doors open. The organic meat company began focusing on both the distribution and the production sides of the meat business. Durand started a small scale sustainably raised and antibiotic-free meat endeavor. As the business grew, it attracted both a plethora of media attention and 200 formers from multiple states. Black Earth Meats ultimately began producing its own line of meats and provided butcher services for cows, lamb, pigs, and other forms of livestock.

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Black Earth Meats slaughtered all of its livestock by the end of July, and began selling off the last of its products to prepare for closure. While focusing on litigation against the Village of Black Earth the organic meat producer, butcher and slaughterhouse operation has been courted by seven other communities eager to garner the successful business with a proven track record for the ethical treatment of both livestock and its growing list of employees.

Good news A new LLC has been formed and we are moving on to the next steps,Finding a new home and finding people that want to invest in us

— Black Earth Meats (@blackearthmeats) August 10, 2014

Durand added this about the order to close his organic meat business:

“This affects hundreds of Wisconsin and Driftless Area farmers. It affects the community of Black Earth and its reputation. It affects over one hundred restaurants, retailers, and farmers market purveyors. It affects all of our employees. It affects the thousands of customers who rely on us for good meat. And it affects the development of a local food infrastructure and small scale processing. Just remember, these are taxpayer dollars we’re talking about. We worked with Economic Development Partners to come up with a solution. It’s very important for people to know that.”

What do you think about Black Earth Meats and the order from local officials to close the business?

[Images Via: Black Earth Meats and Shutterstock.com]