MIDDLEBURY — The owners of Ferrisburgh-based Vermont Livestock (VL) are seeking permission to expand their operation with a new, 11,442-square-foot slaughterhouse and meat-processing facility in Middlebury’s industrial park.
If endorsed by local, state and federal authorities, the new facility could be under construction by May and might be ready to handle animals by this October, according to Carl Cushing, owner/operator of VL.
Backers of the new venture believe it would help beef up a Vermont meat processing industry that is unable to meet the current demands of small- and large-scale farmers. And Cushing confirmed the facility would also provide some hands-on experience for students enrolled in the Patricia Hannaford Career Center’s new meat cutting program.
The career center is located near the proposed site of the Vermont Livestock building, a 5.1-acre parcel at 62 Industrial Ave., across from Beau Ties Ltd.
Vermont Livestock has been operating out of its Depot Street facility — originally built as an icehouse during the early 1900s — in Ferrisburgh for the past half-century. But that town’s difficult clay soils have become a growing problem for on-site wastewater disposal for larger businesses like VL.
The business has been working to upgrade its septic system at the Depot Street property, but in the meantime has also been casting about for another site on which to grow. The Castanea Foundation, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization with a mission to support state agriculture, has been helping VL in its search and expansion efforts.
A project narrative filed by VL with the Middlebury planning offices describes the result of that joint effort.
“As a result of this process, VL and Castanea have determined that expansion at the current Ferrisburgh location is not an ideal solution and that construction of a new modern facility is a prudent step which can help to ensure the long term viability of agricultural enterprises throughout the region.
“After conducting a search throughout northwestern Vermont to identify land available for sale that is appropriately zoned, convenient to a major transportation link and served by municipal water and sewer utilities, VLSP and Castanea (through its subsidiary Esnid, LLC) have decided to proceed with development plans ... in Middlebury.”
The proposal includes:
• An 11,442-square-foot main building that would include areas for animal pens, processing, and office and employee functions.
“The architectural design is consistent with other buildings in the Middlebury Industrial Park and is intended to conform to the published design guidelines for the park,” reads the narrative.
• A single-story, 672-square-foot outbuilding for storage.
• Site improvements to include landscaping, 23 parking spaces, and provisions for pick-ups and deliveries.
It is a project that Cushing said should help VL substantially grow its workforce and product output.
“We hope to expand to the point where we are doing double what we are doing here,” Cushing said.
VL’s Ferrisburgh facility now processes about two-dozen beef cattle, 30 hogs and a few sheep and other animals per week.
“Processing in Middlebury and Ferrisburgh would really raise our numbers,” Cushing said. “Unfortunately, right now we have to turn away more business than we can do.”
It is a common lament among the state’s seven (soon to be only six) licensed and inspected meat processing facilities, said Randy Quenneville, meat program section chief for the meat inspection unit of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
“(The industry) is already booking into December and next year,” he said of the business backlog.
Quenneville explained that the bottleneck rests on the actual cutting of the meat.
“What they kill in a day takes a week to process,” Quenneville said.
He was pleased to hear about VL’s plans for Middlebury.
“The more (meat processing facilities) we have open, the better,” Quenneville said. “There is definitely a need for more, in my opinion.”
And the state — and county — is poised to get more.
The Addison Independenthas learned that yet another slaughterhouse and meat processing facility is in the offing for Addison County.
Local entrepreneur Mark Smith said on Tuesday, “I have been developing a plan for the past two years that is coming together now. It is a different approach to the slaughter and processing industry than Vermont Livestock (is proposing).”
Smith promised to divulge specifics on the facility and its location within the next few weeks.
Vermont Livestock currently has nine full-time workers and two part-timers. While that number would remain the same upon the opening of a Middlebury facility, Cushing anticipated his workforce would grown to 18 full- and part-time employees within three or four years.
In addition to the employees, two full-time United States Department of Agriculture inspectors are on site during regular hours of operation, which now are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. Livestock would initially be delivered to Middlebury one day per week and expanded to two days per week as the operation grows.
Livestock would be delivered into a secured unloading area, typically in 16-foot livestock trailers.
No retail sales from the facility are planned.
Middlebury’s Design Advisory Committee is slated to review VL’s plans on March 23. The proposal is scheduled to come before the Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) on March 26.
Ted Dunakin, administrator for the DRB, said the Vermont Livestock proposal appears consistent with allowable uses and zoning requirements in the town’s industrial park.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]