The area bounded by Kingston to the west, Pembroke to the north and Quebec to the east, has lost 35 per cent of its provincially licensed slaughterhouses over the past decade.
That boils down to a remaining 10 locations offering slaughter for cattle, sheep, goats and swine, with only three handling poultry, say proponents of Farmersville Community Abattoir.
That means high costs and inconvenience for producers and it's time to reverse the trend, Farmersville fans claim. All that's blocking a new abattoir from becoming a reality at Athens north of Brockville is about $220,000, says principal promoter Barbara Schaefer.
The money required to get the project going is for purchase and upgrading of an existing Athens facility to be sourced through loans, donations and memberships. A $1,000 donation would entitle the donor to become a voting member of the non-profit corporation. Operating costs would be covered by user fees.
Schaefer and other executive members including Kyle White of Smiths Falls and Brandon Jelly of Rocksprings hope financial support will flow in from farmers, restaurateurs, chefs, butchers, retailers and consumers.
Over the same decade, slaughterhouses have declined by 35 per cent, farmers markets in Ontario have increased by 12 per cent, both in numbers of vendors and months of operation.
"It's spurred by consumer demand for local food," observes Schaefer who owns Upper Canada Heritage Meat specializing in pasture-raised pigs. "Services to farmers should be increasing, not decreasing."
The existing facility on Addison Road has been closed while the current owner undertakes repairs with the goal of selling it. An independent inspection has been completed. Until three years ago, the facility operated under a provincial license; the 5,500 square-foot building sitting on three acres has space for a retail shop and 2,500 square-feet of storage.
Included with the purchase would be a full range of equipment, including saws, hooks, steel tables, and a grinder. A new propane furnace and ductwork were installed in 2015. The building has the capacity to hold up to 200 sides of beef for chilling and/or aging.
Bernie Barber, current owner and builder of the Addison Road facility, is expected to stay on as lead butcher, consultant and mentor. Not only is he an experienced butcher, but Barber is a former provincial slaughterhouse inspector.
The loss of centrally located Rideau Meats at Smiths Falls earlier this year was a particularly hard blow to regional capacity. With a long waiting list, Rideau handled 2,000 animals a year for 1,000 customers.
Many slaughterhouse closures, Schaefer contends, came after the province initiated new regulations which aging owners felt were too costly to implement.
As of the end of May, Schaefer says, two remaining full-service slaughterhouses within a 90-minute drive of her operation in Elizabethtown/Kitley are fully booked until the fall.
"This means that animals ready for slaughter have to wait up to four months. The cost to farmers is substantial. In addition, fees for hauling long distances are restrictive and the travel time is hard on the animals."
Plans call for the new facility to become the first certified humane slaughterhouse in Canada with a refit of the animal receiving and holding area to ensure the best possible experience for both livestock and handlers.
In addition, Farmersville abattoir will take advantage of its expansive roof to install solar panels meeting all of its electrical needs. It will also look into becoming a provincial training facility for new butchers, recognizing that no accredited program now exists.
Farmersville intends to accept a range of domestic farm animals including cows, sheep, goats, and pigs; poultry slaughter would be part of the operation within a year. Custom cutting and wrapping would be offered upon opening, with vacuum packaging, weighing and labelling added as funds become available.
Athens used to be known as Farmersville. The original name is still recognized at the annual steam show held in Athens, the Farmersville Exhibition; this year, the show was held July 15-17.