Bringing sustainability and food security through a local farming, processing and distribution model
Brand Story – The Meating Place in Hillsboro, Oregon, merges age-old skills and innovative solutions to handle every step of the meat supply chain: slaughtering, butchering, selling and, now, raising its own cattle. Its local approach translates into environmental sustainability and food security for surrounding communities, reenvisioning the future of the meat industry.
The company, which started as a small butcher shop in 1974 until its purchase by longtime employee Casey Miller in 2011, has a history of challenging the industry status quo. Its first shakeup came in 2014 with the launch of a mobile harvest unit, which allowed its processing team to travel to local farms and ranches to slaughter animals in their home environments more humanely and more conveniently.
To get closer to its vision of sustainable, responsible meat production, the team set out to establish its own cattle farm, partnering with employee and mobile harvest aficionado Andrew Turner to make it happen. Relying on his hard work, degree in animal science from OSU and farming knowledge, Turner successfully acquired and renovated an old farm a mere 14 miles away from The Meating Place butcher shop and café.
There he raises Meating Right beef, sold exclusively at The Meating Place butcher shop. Together, Miller and Turner have also added the first operational Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) inspected slaughterhouse to their farm and adopted a revolutionary new composting method for animal waste that could provide an alternative to trucking meat rendering products out of state for incineration.
With this land, The Meating Place can cultivate its own livestock, harvest them onsite with an ODA inspector, and process them for its own butcher shop to sell directly to consumers.
While it may sound simple, the radical nature of this short, resilient supply chain comes into focus when compared with today’s standard practices: farms of all different sizes raise cattle for roughly 12 to 18 months before trucking them to feedlot brokers, who inundate animals with calories over the subsequent months. When sufficiently fattened, they are shipped off again to giant slaughterhouses that process up to thousands of heads of cattle a day. From there, the meat is packaged in plastic and sent to distributors across the country before eventually landing in grocery stores, where it is removed from its packaging, placed in plastic trays, and put on display for customers.
“Not only are we trying to reduce the carbon footprint of cattle production and what some would consider the inhumane handling of animals, we’re providing a secure source of food for the community,” explains Miller, owner of The Meating Place and founder of Meating Right. “We’re trying to produce something of higher quality that is better for the planet and consumers.”
Currently, meat industry infrastructure is consolidated into a handful of massive facilities. For example, Oregon’s closest major USDA slaughterhouse lies in Pasco, Washington, near the Idaho border, meaning that cattle raised in Southern Oregon are eventually shipped all the way to Eastern Washington, a process that puts stress on both animals and the environment.
Disruptions to these major facilities highlight the fragility of modern supply chains and, consequently, food security.
“During COVID, meat processing plants were the first to get hit, and it blew the cover off the fact that there are a limited number of them. When giant slaughterhouses across the country lost a majority of their employees to COVID, it stopped the production line,” Miller continues. “There was nobody to process animals. In some instances, they had to slaughter and dispose of thousands of animals, even while major chains like Costco and Fred Meyer were running out of meat.”
The supply of meat was there, the demand for meat was there, but local, diversified infrastructure was missing, leaving no way to bridge supply and demand.
Witnessing the unreliability of the current food system, the Oregon Department of Agriculture introduced a 2021 grant to help businesses explore alternatives to mega feedlots and slaughterhouses. The Meating Place’s mobile processing trailer caught its attention.
At that time, The Meating Place was also looking at nearby farmland to bring its beef production idea to life. Of 44 applications, it was one of four to get a substantial share of the grant based on its vision to raise and slaughter cattle in one place and sell the beef at its nearby butcher shop: no long transports to feedlots or slaughterhouses; no vacuum packing; no supply chain vulnerability.
“In the event of a natural disaster, another pandemic, or unforeseen disruptions to supply chains, we’re in control of getting what we need,” Miller says. “If there were an earthquake and major bridges in and out of the city were impassable, we could still provide quality meat to our customers.”
Aside from addressing food security and sustainability, Miller and his team meet a demand for quality, ethical products, expanding the restaurant and butcher shop to keep up. His 60-person staff stays busy, with customers frequenting both the shop and café for homemade sausages, whole-muscle deli meat, smoked bacon, seasonal specialties and more.
“It shows that people do want locally sourced and artisanal meats. Everything we have we make from scratch,” Miller notes. “We make it every week with the least amount of preservatives possible because it’s not shipped across the country and sitting on grocery store shelves.”
Meating Right plans to expand its livestock to include hogs and lambs, while continuing to test its moisture-controlled, accelerated composting system. The pilot project relies on an enclosed drum to, hopefully, generate nitrogen-rich compost at high speed with low odor.
Although keen to leverage new solutions like these, The Meating Place, in its commitment to keep food and profits local, more closely resembles the meat industry of yesteryear.
“There are very few people who run a meat business like ours anymore. Few people have the industry knowledge of everything from slaughter to butcher shop processing. There’s a generational gap when small butchers disappeared, so it’s a bit of a lost trade,” Miller concludes. “My business model is what I would like to see across the industry. I want us to get away from huge corporations that own the entire food chain. It is not what is best for consumers, it is not sustainably practical, and it doesn’t have to be this way.”
Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues. The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.