Abattoir struggling despite ‘buy local’ trend

Nicholas Donaldson

Local food is becoming more and more important for people who care about what they eat and where their food comes from.
Despite this growing trend, however, one cornerstone of the local food market—the Rainy River District Regional Abattoir in Emo—finds itself continuing to struggle financially.
“Truthfully, it’s not doing that great,” said local farmer, producer, and abattoir board member Kim-Jo Bliss.
“We’re getting by, that’s it,” she stressed.
The abattoir, which first opened in 2010, has been the culmination of a lot of work by district farmers to be able to have their meat slaughtered locally.
This allows everyone access to local meat that can be marketed legally by area farmers.
“The value of the abattoir is not just for those using it, it is for the entire district,” Bliss explained.
“Without an abattoir, people just don’t have access to local meat legally.”
One of the biggest problems for the abattoir is just paying its bills.
For instance, it currently is classified as “industrial” by the Township of Emo, which puts it into a higher tax class.
Bliss said the board has talked to the township about the classification and hopes it can be convinced that changing this classification helps the abattoir, which, in turn, supports the local economy.
Another big problem is electricity prices for the abattoir. The board has talked to Hydro One about rates, but Bliss says “I don’t know what will change about that.”
“I just know it is our next huge bill.”
Bliss said if the provincial government truly wants to help promote local food, then it needs to look into these things because they are what are hurting the abattoir the most.
“We are just trying to pay our bills,” noted Bliss, stressing the abattoir is not looking for special treatment.
“We don’t want to hurt anyone on the other end, either.”
The next best option for farmers hoping to sell their meat locally is taking their animals to the abattoir in Dryden.
But for people buying local meat, “having fewer miles on your meat is much more attractive.”
“We could go to Dryden,” Bliss conceded. “But how local is that when you are putting your animals on the truck for three hours and then bringing them back?”
The importance of local food, and the trend of many wanting to know where there food comes from, are not lost on Bliss.
“When it started, local food was just talk,” she remarked. “An ‘Oh, that’s cool’ sort of thing.
“But now people really understand it and want to know where their food comes from,” she added.
“They know the farmer and they like that your animals are treated right.
“If we don’t have the abattoir, we don’t have that connection,” she reasoned.
The benefits of local meat aren’t just economic, either. As Bliss pointed out, taste and freshness also are a factor.
“Everyone I sell to says, ‘Wow, what a difference,’ because it is actually fresh,” she enthused.
Bliss said if people want to help the abattoir, “more and more people have to ask for local food.”
“A lot of young people don’t want to buy an entire side of beef,” she noted. “But there are plenty of people who will sell a couple pounds of burger or a few roasts.
“All you have to do is ask.
“If more people asked for local food, the abattoir would be used that much more,” Bliss reasoned.
“And the more animals that we put through the plant, that is what is going to keep us going.”