• Editor's Note Winter 2010

    Editor's Note Winter 2010

    Vermont is facing many challenges when it comes to local meat production: Grazing land is expensive, there aren’t enough facilities in which to process animals, and many residents refrain from buying local meat because they don’t know how to cook the unusual cuts sold by small farms. What exactly do you do with a pork loin or lamb shoulder?

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  • A Breed Apart

    A Breed Apart

    On a 40-acre hillside in Corinth, Ben Machin raises a flock of 60 Tunis sheep. They’re a “heritage breed”—a domesticated breed of animal that has a long genetic history but is now endangered. As industrial agriculture continues to rely on just a few breeds designed for maximum growth in the shortest amount of time, more sustainable farmers are raising heritage breeds as an alternative—and to save them. Ben, a 35-year-old farmer who also works as a forester with Redstart Forestry and Consulting, is managing the flock that his great-grandfather started in the 1920s. Local Banquet editor Caroline Abels recently spoke with Ben about his unique sheep and why heritage breeds matter.

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  • A Boost to the Butchers

    A Boost to the Butchers

    In March 2009, in an attempt to help strengthen Vermont’s meat-processing infrastructure, the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program awarded $40,000 in grants to four facilities. For recipient Tony Brault, it was perfect timing; he had been planning to add on a spiffy retail area to his slaughterhouse. But for grantee Gary Barnes, who runs a meat market, the amount he was awarded would barely begin to cover the cost of adding on a separate processing area for wild game, so as of this writing, he had not collected the grant funds. Nevertheless, the grants helped both of these meat facilities in northern Vermont, with and without funding, and here’s how.

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  • We Have Sausage

    We Have Sausage

    Late in life my father was able to get the spicy breakfast sausage he loved as a kid sent north to him from the general store in the small southern town where he grew up. It was better than caviar, he once noted. Packed in dry ice, it was shipped only in the winter, when the weather was safe for fresh meat to travel. And when my infrequent visits home coincided with those deliveries, he would call out in greeting the welcome words, “We have sausage!”

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  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    In the not-so-distant past, eating locally was a way of life and a matter of necessity. For four generations, the Robinson family farmed in Ferrisburgh, at the place known today as the Rokeby Museum. The museum’s collection includes correspondence and household records detailing the family’s ways of farming, preserving, and eating. In the last of this four-part series, we take a look at how the Robinsons cooked, ate, and farmed in the late 1800s.

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  • Close to Home

    Close to Home

    We’ve always believed that if you eat meat you should be able to kill it. We had our chance to put our beliefs into action this year.

    On two very different days, one in early July, the second in late October, we gathered with four friends to kill the 30 chickens and 10 turkeys we had co-raised. Although this past July wasn’t the hottest on record, the day we gathered was warm and the rain held off. On a cold and raw late October morning we met up again to process turkeys and a few older laying hens.

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  • Dairy farmers raise veal—with a conscience

    Dairy farmers raise veal—with a conscience

    It’s bad luck to be born a boy—on a dairy farm, that is. A farmer’s face will often fall at the sight of a newborn male calf, who obviously will never grow up to produce milk. “Girl?” someone might ask on hearing of a birth on the farm. “Nope—a bull,” the farmer might say. “I’ll call the truck.”

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  • Older dairy cows could become steady source of local beef

    Older dairy cows could become steady source of local beef

    It all starts with a single surprising statistic: 40,000 mature dairy cows leave the state each year. They are so-called “market cows”—dairy cattle who have stopped producing milk at an economically viable rate. They are culled from their herds and trucked primarily to Pennsylvania, where they and other cows from the Northeast are slaughtered and processed. Their meat then enters the industrial food distribution system.

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  • Windowsill Greens

    Windowsill Greens

    In the dead of winter—when fresh salad greens are scarce, expensive, and probably not local—I grow shoots (the stem and first leaves of a plant grown in soil) and have fresh, colorful, crispy, and delicious greens that are ready to use every day. Pea shoots, sunflower greens, buckwheat lettuce, radish greens, and broccoli greens are my favorites—they offer a fantastic mix of flavors and make a great-looking tossed salad. Shoots are also inexpensive and easy to grow, benefit your compost pile, and provide colorful trays of growing plants that can make the dark days of winter a little brighter. Good-bye cabin fever!

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Green Mountain Ducks

    Farmers' Kitchen—Green Mountain Ducks

    North Branch Farm, in the mountains of Ripton, is an unlikely place for ducks, but we’ve been raising them on a very small scale each summer for the last four years. Pekins are our favorite meat ducks to raise—they’re fast growing and white and beautiful. And they have lots of fat.

    “Lots of fat?” you might ask. “Why would we want that?” Or maybe you already know. Local duck fat is a localvore’s dream. Any food lover’s dream, actually. It is delicious to cook with as a replacement for oil or butter, and it keeps beautifully in a glass jar in the fridge.

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  • Last Morsel—Carnivore with a Caveat

    Last Morsel—Carnivore with a Caveat

    I stopped eating meat at the impassioned age of 14, when a biology teacher showed a film called Diet for a New America, which graphically described the many and various evils of the modern meat industry. I dumped that day’s turkey sandwich in the garbage and didn’t touch meat again for nine years. My reasoning was three-fold: I believed that vegetarianism was better for my body, better for the planet, and decreased the total suffering of the world. I knew that certain responsible farming practices could, in theory, mitigate or overcome most of my objections to meat, but I’d never seen them in practice and didn’t know how to judge them or trust their claims.

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  • How to cut a chicken

    How to cut a chicken

    The kitchen skills of our grandparents have largely gone unused since the appearance of ready-made foods in American grocery stores. Yet if we want to eat local food, we must often cook from scratch. Here is a guide to cutting a whole, uncooked chicken—a necessary skill if we want to eat the fresh local birds that Vermonters are beginning to raise again in large numbers. Once you’ve broken down a chicken, you’re good to go with all sorts of recipes!

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A Boost to the Butchers

Tony Brault and Gary Barnes
Tony Brault and Gary Barnes

Written By

Julia Shipley

Written on

December 01 , 2009

In March 2009, in an attempt to help strengthen Vermont’s meat-processing infrastructure, the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program awarded $40,000 in grants to four facilities. For recipient Tony Brault, it was perfect timing; he had been planning to add on a spiffy retail area to his slaughterhouse. But for grantee Gary Barnes, who runs a meat market, the amount he was awarded would barely begin to cover the cost of adding on a separate processing area for wild game, so as of this writing, he had not collected the grant funds. Nevertheless, the grants helped both of these meat facilities in northern Vermont, with and without funding, and here’s how.

....

Tony Brault has cut things all his life, everything except his own hair, and he’s so busy lately, he hasn’t gotten around to letting someone else at it. One of his earliest memories as a kid in the Northeast Kingdom is “standing on an overturned soda crate, cutting meat beside my grandfather with a butter knife so I couldn’t injure myself.” Back then his grandfather owned a slaughterhouse in Troy, and there were others in nearby towns Orleans, North Hyde Park, and Richford.

Now Brault is the owner of that Troy slaughterhouse, and a third generation meat cutter. He is also the father of the fourth generation, as his son is also working at Brault’s Market, a custom slaughtering, cutting, packing, smokehouse, and curing facility and store.

To get there, a customer will turn off Route 100, by the Brault’s sign, and cruise down a long straight lane that leads directly to a wide building. If you’d stopped there last year, you would have parked your car in front of an unwelcoming, but kempt building, and let yourself in by a door that seemed as much a private entrance as it did “the door to the store.” Now, thanks to the VFVEP grant money, a customer will find a handsome edifice with a few windows and a door that leads to the spacious renovated meat shop.

Even though Brault’s has expanded to meet demand, putting in a new kill floor in 1989, the facility has just about all the business it can handle right now. Brault’s currently slaughters 700 beef, 1,500 hogs and 600 lambs per year for individuals and commercial entities, including another grant recipient, the Enosburg Meat Market.

To be eligible for part of the $40,000 pool of grant money, businesses had to be involved in meat processing, storage, marketing, and/or distribution of meat products. They also needed to have an airtight business plan demonstrating fiscal responsibility. And the business had to be headquartered in Vermont. Eleven meat processors completed the comprehensive application, and $20,000 was the maximum amount that could be awarded to any one facility. Although funds could be requested for a variety of projects, three out of the four grant winners applied to fund expansion: Brault’s, The Royal Butcher in Randolph, and Enosburg Meat Market. The fourth recipient, Vermont Smoke and Cure in Barre, requested funds for a piece of equipment that would increase their production. The $40,000 grant was divided among the four businesses.

According to Ela Chapin, program director of the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program, the program provides assistance to about 50 farmers every year, with an emphasis on preserving working landscapes by helping farmers develop or revamp business plans. The VFVEP commenced overseeing this new funding opportunity when a private foundation volunteered to supply funding for fortifying agricultural infrastructure—in this case, meat-processing businesses.

Royal Larocque, owner of the Royal Butcher said, “Basically we’re using the grant to widen the doors and pour a graded concrete floor so we can move a pallet in and out of the facility.” Until the grant-funded project is complete, the only way they have to move carcasses, which can weigh up to 200 lbs., in and out of the building is on their shoulders. And for Vermont Smoke and Cure, the bacon slicer they purchased with their grant money enables them to go from making 50 slices per minute to 400 slices per minute. “It’s a big help,” stated Chris Bailey, the CEO. He now has a greater capacity to serve the small local farmers who use his processing services.

The new retail facility at Brault’s has a slicer, a meat case, a food-grade band saw, and bags of their famous leathery spicy beef jerky on the counter. Brault said they’re still putting the finishing touches on the retail area meat case. Nevertheless, a customer will currently find a carnivore’s larder of ham, Canadian bacon, boneless pork loin, West New York strip, western rib eye (read: feedlot beef), local T-bone, water buffalo rib eye, franks, and sirloin top butt, all purveyed by Brault’s sister. And they can help themselves to even more in the new self-service freezer.

With the new retail space taken care of, Brault now can devote more space to his smoke room, where he hickory smokes pork bellies, churning out hams and bacon.

....

On the other side of Jay Peak, on a side street in Enosburg, there’s another meat processor, another business that has also been an integral part of its community for more than half a century.

Enosburg Meat Market is owned by Eric Tully and Gary Barnes, who bought the business in December 2008. Inside on a recent visit, by two rolls of white and brown butcher paper and meat stamps hung by their handles, I saw a thirtysomething Eric Tully wrapping bright red meat in white rectangles of paper: “top round, custom cut.” Gary Barnes was running the slicer. Off to the side of the meat case was an enormous wooden door, and within was a walk-in freezer where stacks of meat lockers, like super-size dresser drawers, could be pulled out to store meat. At one time many communities in Vermont had meat lockers, but few remain. Yet here, families can rent a locker to store a year’s worth of beef.

Despite the high volume of customers Barnes cited the costs of complying with government regulations and other factors, and said, “It’s a money pit is what it is. See that new cooler? That was 6,000 dollars.” And yet, when asked about his profession, fraught with complications, regulations, and big expenditures, Barnes declared, “This isn’t work.” He’s got beef and pigs at home, and cuts wood.

Barnes applied to the VFVEP for $16,000 to build an addition around the back porch cutting area so he can have a space dedicated to processing wild game. Current regulations prohibit wild and domestic meats from being processed in the same area at the same time; Barnes currently doesn’t have ample room or equipment for simultaneous processing. (Nothing is killed at the facility; they don’t have a license for that.) As we eased out the far door of the cooler to the back parking lot, I saw a worker beginning to gut a deer shot in Canada. Only a small awning sheltered him from snow that was spraying in on the wind like sand.

The VFVEP only awarded the Enosburg Meat Market $5,000, which is not enough to cover the cost of the shed. Yet sound financial planning is the central principle of the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program, and Barnes agrees. Upon submitting the grant application, he expressed to Chapin that whether they received the grant or not, the process of undergoing a financial analysis of the business and working with a business advisor was worth as much or more than the Meat Market might receive in funding. He said working with Steve Densham of St. Albans’ Vermont Small Business Association Development Center was “extremely helpful…I’ve never done anything like that.” And in fact, Barnes is still in contact with his advisor. He called him up the other day because he needed a knife supplier, and couldn’t remember the name. “He got back to me: Poli Brothers Cutlery; done.”

Back at the front of the shop, the customers kept filing in through the door. An elderly woman, all wrapped up against the cold, specified four cube steaks. Then she told me, “I buy them here because they don’t shrink when you cook them like they do from the supermarket.”

She asked Eric Tully to mark the one that had been frozen, and he drew a smiley face above the word “freeze.” He showed the package to her. “This okay?”

Photo of Tony Brault of Brault’s Market by Julia Shipley

About the Author

Julia Shipley

Julia Shipley

Julia Shipley wrote this article on a desk she stuck in her cow barn. With a grant from the Vermont Arts Council, she’s completing a book of braided essays titled, Hewn: Dispatches from Broken Ground. Since July she has been a writer in residence at the Helen Day Art Center’s Habitat for Artists in Stowe, both drawing and writing about farm tools. Readers who know of farmer-writers she may have overlooked, or who simply wish to chime in with thoughts on the literature of agriculture.

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.

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