Dexter Farmers Refuse to be Plowed Under by Larger Corporations or a Pandemic

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A portrait of grit and determination. (L-R) Dexter Mill owner Keri Bushaw, Sarah Schloss of N Kids Farm, and Colleen Dauw of Dancer Creek Farm.

By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter

A local farming duo has created a way to overcome the shutout in processing that small farms have experienced from the pandemic while at the same time increasing the supply for the growing demand of locally sourced food.

Colleen Dauw of Dancer Creek Farm and Sarah Schloss of N Kids Farm have formed Washtenaw Meats, a grouping of partner farms whose synergy is blazing a path forward in difficult times.

“One of the consequences of the pandemic was that small slaughter facilities became very bottlenecked,” explains Colleen. “Larger farms entered into the smaller processing facility stream when the big processing facilities were closed down from the pandemic.”

As a result, many small farmers such as Colleen and Sarah were squeezed out by larger corporate farms from getting their livestock butchered. Exhibiting the independent character indicative of farmers, Colleen and Sarah immediately began brainstorming a way to get their livestock processed as well as the other small farms in the area.

The two looked into building their own USDA slaughterhouse. But the governmental process takes years. They needed a solution now.

Farmers couldn’t get their animals butchered, but demand for meat increased because people were staying home and cooking. Colleen and Sarah shifted their attention to finding a way for small farmers to get butcher slots. The idea they arrived at not only gave small livestock producers an entrance into the processing plant but also opened up an avenue to meet the area’s growing demand for locally sourced food.

Sarah explains. “We came up with this idea of forming a collective of small farms. If we had enough farms participating, we would be able to secure monthly slots at the USDA butchers. With enough partner farms, we would always then have animals ready to fill the slots we reserved, which is critical for the butchers to make their money.”

“If you cancel on a butcher with short notice, it really negatively affects them,” adds Colleen. “If you cancel a steer on the day of that steer, it is their whole gross income for that day.”

The two agricultural entrepreneurs formed Washtenaw Meats, which provides partner farms assistance in marketing, distribution, and processing logistics. The business structure has successfully increased the small farmer’s ability to get their livestock processed. Also, taking some of the unpleasant administrative tasks off farmers allows them to do what they love—farming, which is hard enough without the logistical headaches of moving your product.

The Dexter Mill, currently offering Washtenaw Meats, dairy, and other goods, is looking to expand its locally sourced offerings to meet the growing demand for farm-to-table products.

“Most farmers, especially livestock people, are great with their animals and raise animals really well,” says Sarah. “But most of them struggle to market their product from the time it is ready to harvest and beyond.”

Washtenaw Meats purchases the livestock from the farms ensuring the farmers, paying a fair price for their product. It is a model similar to Fair Trade coffee, where growers are paid a living wage for their coffee instead of a commodity price based on trading activity.

For those of us looking for locally sourced food and looking to support the local economy, Washtenaw Meats can be purchased in a couple of ways.

Customers can go to the website, https://www.washtenawmeats.com, and order from a wide variety of products—beef, pork, lamb, goat, chicken, and turkey. The intuitive website gives consumers options for pick-up locations and dates.

One of the distribution sites is the Dexter Mill, another option for procuring local food. The Mill keeps a supply of Washtenaw Meats on hand for walk-in customers. Dexter Mill owner, Keri Bushaw, is a big believer in locally-source food, the quality of food it provides, and the impact on the local economy that buying local has.

“We have sold milk, eggs, and other goods for years,” says Keri. “We want to promote local farmers. We started selling meat when the pandemic hit.”

Public response to the Mill’s quiet debut of locally sourced meats has been solid.

“We have had great feedback,” says Keri. “We have people that come back time and time again, and we offer a lot in our freezer. I see them coming to distribution Saturday, and they’re buying quite a lot. There seems to be quite a lot of repeat customers.”

“There isn’t a meat shortage,” adds Keri. “There’s actually a lot of meat available, and Washtenaw Meats is making farm-to-table meats more accessible.”

As demand increases and supply, Keri plans on expanding the locally sourced food options at the Dexter Mill. Stay tuned.

For more information, be sure to visit Washtenaw Meats’ website at https://www.washtenawmeats.com/

With Thanksgiving coming up, it is a great way to get your family a great turkey.

Colleen sees the endeavor as the power that comes from people working together for the common good.

“This past year has taught us all to think outside of the box,” she says. “What has become clear to us is that building community relationships is really powerful.”

Photos: Doug Marrin

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