Company founder sees proposed meat-processing facility as key to Douglas County food system

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse at 1100 Massachusetts St., which houses the county government, is shown on Sept. 15, 2018.

When the Douglas County Commission finalized its allocations of American Rescue Plan Act funding last month, only one of 14 external agencies on the list — Central Grazing Company — was a private business.

The company proposed to construct a meat-processing facility in the county, Kaw Valley Meats. Jacqueline Smith, the founder of Central Grazing Company, sees the facility as potentially instrumental in creating resiliency in the local food system.

“I have a big passion for creating food systems that respect the entire supply chain, from the workers who work the land to farmers — they should be paid a living wage and not poverty rates,” Smith told the Journal-World earlier this week. “We should have animals that are well cared for on the soil, and we should be stewarding the land in a way that can help the resiliency of our local communities.”

Ultimately, county leaders decided to fund only a portion of the request for the proposed meat-processing facility; the $305,000 allocation was significantly less than the nearly $1.5 million that Central Grazing Company requested in its application, which would have covered land acquisition and the start of construction.

The smaller amount will go instead toward development work that will pave the way for the company to construct the plant. Smith said that includes the cost of a feasibility study, plus a number of other plans required to operate a processing plant.

Those plans cover elements like equipment and physical workflow — which in total will take up $175,000 of the funding — and have to be developed before Central Grazing Company can apply for the federal USDA grant needed for construction, Smith said. The funding will also pay for hiring a contractual CFO to develop a financial plan at $75,000, plus $10,000 each for accounting and grant-writing services. The remaining $35,000 will cover the attorney fees for Kaw Valley Meats to operate as a “perpetual purpose trust” — a type of trust with no beneficiaries, which instead exists to advance some kind of noncharitable purpose.

According to the project application submitted to Douglas County, that noncharitable purpose would manifest in the facility providing more opportunities for new food and farm entrepreneurs to enter the profession, and also would provide a pipeline for food produced in Douglas County by small- to medium-sized businesses to feed residents locally.

The goal of the feasibility study is to see whether community members see such a facility as a need in the first place, Smith said, and also to determine where exactly it should be located. Smith said that from her perspective, processing facilities like what her company — which raises lambs — would use are “overrun by too much demand.” Those facilities are backed up enough that processing has to be scheduled a year to 18 months in advance, she said, and even facilities located near Douglas County are at capacity.

“That’s a lot of lead time for farmers, and especially rural citizens who rely on a robust agriculture economy for survival,” Smith said. “They don’t even have the ability to get their own animals processed for their food consumption, so this is a vital community asset that is going to help create a resiliency in our food system.”

If constructing the processing facility ultimately comes to fruition, Smith said it would support her own business, but she also wants it to be a community asset. She said the goal would be to fill a need for Douglas County residents who raise smaller numbers of animals but can’t find a facility with availability to process them.

To that end, she said she’d imagine a portion of the processing schedule being allocated to Central Grazing Company, a portion being allocated to other businesses of a similar size, and another portion being dedicated to community farmers like those who sell their products at farmers markets. It would be focused on processing red meats.

Part of the process before then will be assembling a team of “specialists” to decide on the scope of the feasibility study, Smith said. That study will be “open source,” which she said means it will be made available as a blueprint for other communities that might be considering the viability of similar processing facilities of their own. She’s aiming to have the feasibility study “conceptualized and plotted” by November.

“We will move quickly on this feasibility study and determination of if this is the right path forward,” Smith said.


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