Local producer-led initiative and partners build abattoir to benefit producers, consumers and the community.
The Manitoulin Island Community Abattoir Inc. (MICA) is an incorporated not-for-profit organization of local, livestock, producer-members formed to build and operate a community-based Provincially-regulated and licensed abattoir. The project officially began in 2007 after a local business retreat organized by the local Community Futures Development Corporation (CDFC) and municipalities that reaffirmed a local abattoir as integral infrastructure in the community to further agriculture.
A steering committee was struck to pursue the concept, which after a lot of dedication and hard work was realized with the official opening in January 2013. A previous effort initiated after the BSE situation in 2003 had failed to move forward successfully. The project was a priority because the closest abattoir open to producers was Sturgeon Falls, a three to four hour drive depending on where producers were located on the island.
“This was costly for producers, as it meant driving long distances at significant costs, with the transportation to the abattoir of between $60 and $75 per head,” explains Birgit Martin, MICA chairperson and local cattle producer. “The freight back to the island of inspected and refrigerated beef cost about 15 to 18 cents per pound on the carcass. Therefore, the local freezer trade was offering no more money to producers than commodity beef because transportation costs were eating up any benefits of trying to capture the local market.”
The first step was a feasibility study to build a ‘kill and chill’ abattoir on Manitoulin Island. “There were already multiple secondary processors in the area, but the kill and chill function was missing,” says Martin. “The feasibility study showed that the ongoing operations of a kill/chill plant could be profitable, but outside capital funding was required to build the facility.” MICA went to the government for assistance in building the recommended greenfield facility, with the plans that they would be able to operate it successfully once built.
Community Supported Business Development
MICA, which is run and managed by a volunteer board, successfully accessed over $1.5 million funding from various sources, with the first funding from the Ontario Cattleman’s Association as part of the BSE funding set aside to expand abattoirs and capacity. Funding was also provided by Industry Canada through FedNor, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
“As a not-for profit, we also have significant individual investments from about 50 MICA producer members, several local municipalities and one local first nations group,” says Martin. “We also really appreciate the excellent support of our local CDFC, the LaCloche Manitoulin Business Assistance Corporation (LAMBAC).” Along with assistance with applications, funds administration and other management activities, LAMBAC also provided a loan guarantee for the project to cash flow construction. The success of the project is also largely due to the time and dedication of local volunteers who helped bring the project to completion, some who continue to be part of the board.
“For other communities interested in this type of project, I would say absolutely embrace it,” says Martin. “The local support for our project has been terrific and consumers really do want to eat locally produced food. Economically, one of our biggest challenges was developing a model for a facility with kill and chill functions only. But for abattoir projects that can combine that core function with secondary processing, there may be fewer constraints on the business development side. A huge challenge is just being persistent and persevering, as it takes a very long time to move a project like this forward and get through all the channels for funding and approvals. It took a lot of patience, a lot of communication and correspondence with funding agencies.”
Abattoir Open For Business
Construction for the project was completed at the end of 2012, the operating license issued on January 10, 2013 and the first test run on February 7, 2013. The abattoir expects to move to full production by the end of February, operating one or two days a week. The plant is mainly for cattle, but is also able to handle hogs, sheep, bison and domestic deer.
During construction, an opportunity came up for MICA to purchase a local butcher shop from the owner who was retiring. “The retail was a perfect fit as it was the economic driver for us to justify hiring a manager and to be able to attract someone to be part of our business,” says Martin. “We have hired a husband and wife team who moved to Manitoulin to operate the butcher shop full time and the abattoir on kill days.”
In addition to supporting direct sales by producers, MICA is also working on developing an island brand that is to be launched in early summer 2013. Martin explains the island brand will include production and processing protocols to ensure outstanding quality, consistency and traceability of products. The brand will be for a local meat product produced with local feed by local producers. It will help establish a direct farmer to consumer relationship, as well as opportunities through local grocery stores and across the region.
“The benefits of this project are not just for farmer members, but also processing members,” adds Martin. “Regulations have changed over time and local butchers are no longer allowed to accept uninspected beef for cutting and wrapping. The abattoir will help processors gain business, and producers will gain because they can now engage in direct marketing to consumers. Consumers gain because they are now able to participate in the ‘eat local’ movement.”
“Anything we can do as producers to facilitate eating locally produced food is great for both the producer and the consumer. It is really a kind of field to fork story where everybody benefits,” says Birgit Martin.