November 12, 2015
This post is the second in a series highlighting Value-Added Producer Grants awarded in 2015. Visit our first post for an overview of this year’s awards. This post features Ethan Gevry of Champlain Valley Farm in Addison, Vermont.
On November 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced awards totaling $34 through the Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program.
Administered by USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service, VAPG provides grants to individual or groups of independent agricultural producers, producer-controlled entities, organizations representing agricultural producers, and farmer or rancher cooperatives to create or develop value-added producer-owned businesses.
In our previous post in this series, we announced the 2015 Value Added Producer Grant recipients and explored the breakdown of awards across states, regions, and products. In this post, we recognize pork producer Ethan Gevry and Black River Meats for receiving a VAPG award to expand their value-added pork products. Both of our profiles for this series come from Vermont because USDA released those awards earlier than the rest of the country, giving us a head start in tracking awardees down.
Champlain Valley Farm
At just 19 years of age, Ethan Gevry operates the largest hog farm in Vermont, selling a total of 1,300 hogs this year.
“A lot of people are surprised to hear about an operation this size in Vermont because you just don’t see it,” said Ethan. “Vermont isn’t a hog state.”
All of the hogs are raised without antibiotics or hormones, which is important to Black River Meats, the aggregator that buys his hogs. Plus, the pigs are “happier and healthier the way we raise them,” Ethan said.
Ethan grew up on his grandparents’ dairy farm, participated in FFA, and was the type of kid who would skip school to go to farm auctions (he now has an auctioneer license). When his grandparents sold their cows in 2002, the farm sat idle for years. Ethan started raising a few pigs on the farm for friends and family at the age of 12.
When someone at the Hannaford Career Center connected Ethan to Black River Meats when he was a high school junior, he saw an opportunity to scale up. The number of hogs on his farm has jumped from 25 hogs in 2013 to his current herd of 750. He is on track to raise 3,000 hogs per year.
Black River Meats
Helping producers to scale up is exactly the role that Black River Meats aimed to fill when Black River Produce, its parent company, launched the branded meat program in 2009.
Black River Produce is a mid-scale fresh food distributor that serves the Northeast region and got its start selling organic produce. Jean Hamilton, Communications Director, said the company recognized a significant demand for local meats and observed two hurdles that prevented livestock farmers from scaling up their sustainable meat production.
First, nobody was connecting producers with larger and more consistent buyers.
Second, producers had a hard time finding a reliable processing facility that could handle an increased volume and the higher level of transparency that more engaged customers wanted.
Black River Meats has helped to minimize both of those challenges. The goal of this aggregate, branded meat program is to open up a new market channel focused on traditional grocery stores and supermarkets by serving as a liaison between producers and larger retail market places.
Two years ago, Black River Meats partnered with Minnesota-based Lorentz Meats, which focuses on mid-scale processing infrastructure. Lorentz Meats launched a sister company, Vermont Packinghouse, which is now the largest packing facility in Vermont but still very much a small-scale slaughterhouse, Jean said. Black River Meats is just one of multiple branded meat companies and restaurant groups that works with Vermont Packinghouse to process meat products.
Black River Meats branded products include pork, beef, lamb and goat, all of which are antibiotic free and marketed in the local marketplace. In addition to grocery stores, Black River Meat products can also be found in restaurants in Vermont. Ethan said it is neat to walk into a restaurant and see his farm name on the menu.
Value-Added Pork Products
The VAPG award will primarily support the actual processing of products through new equipment purchases. Over the next two years, Black River Meats will process about 300,000 pounds of value-added pork products: raw sausages, smoked sausages, bacon, and ground pork. These products will be sourced from four farms, including Ethan’s, and sold under the Black River Meats brand.
The award will also allow Black River Meats to engage in marketing, cultivate customers for the increased product volume, and develop producers’ capacity by sharing information and educational materials among them.
Fostering strong partnerships between distributors, processors and producers is key to developing robust mid-tier value chains, Jean said. Ethan is thankful to have the support of Black River Meats, saying he does not want to raise pigs for anyone else and looks forward to growing with the company.
We congratulate Ethan and Black River Meats on receiving a 2015 VAPG award and enabling partnerships that promote local, sustainable food systems.