NSAC's Blog

Guest Blog: Value-Added Producer Grants in Action

April 15, 2011

(Editor’s Note:  We want to thank Jenny R. Meudt of Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms, LLC in Delavan, Wisconsin, for submitting this post.  Meudt was a participant in the recent NSAC farmer DC fly-in.  She and other farmers came to DC to encourage Congress to maintain funding for critical sustainable agriculture programs, including the job-creating Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program.  In the new government funding bill for the rest of FY 2011, VAPG was cut by 7 percent to $18.9 million.  A VAPG request for new project proposals from farmers is expected to be issued by USDA in the coming weeks.  USDA also recently issued an interim rule for the program.)

When lifelong Wisconsin farmer Steve Pinnow identified a market for freshly slaughtered lamb, he ran into an immediate problem.   The only places to process the lambs he raised were so busy that he would have to schedule his processing two months in advance, which made taking orders for fresh lamb almost impossible.  Furthermore, if Pinnow wanted to sell his lamb products in Illinois, where the market is large, he needed federal inspection permits.

Fortunately, with a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant of $150,000, Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms, LLC was able to build a processing plant on its five-acre homestead between Whitewater and Delavan, Wisconsin.  Opened in January 2009, the plant processes between 40 and 50 lambs a week and employs six full-time workers.

Explaining the clear demand for the product, Pinnow says “We slaughter the lambs on Mondays, process them on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and get them to market by the weekends.”  He adds, “You can’t get meat fresher than that.”

Pinnow sells his product in grocery stores in Wisconsin and Illinois (for a list of stores visit www.wisconsinlamb.com), at the Kenosha Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, and to quality restaurants including Chicago’s famed Spiaggia.

The plant now not only serves Pinnow’s processing needs but those of others as well.  He contracts with 30 lamb producers around the state to provide him lambs.  Pinnow raises the lambs for the last 30 days of their lives, providing precise feeding so that the lambs are consistent in weight and quality.  He explains, “One of the things the restaurants like about us is that our cuts of lamb are all the same.  They don’t get one cut with a lot of fat and the next that is too lean,” he said.  By raising the lambs during the month preceding slaughter, Pinnow also has control of the number slaughtered each week, giving him an added edge of freshness.  Many of his producers are Amish farmers in Southwestern Wisconsin.  “We go to their farms directly and pick up the lambs,” Pinnow said.  “They like dealing with us because they get an extra $12 a head or so because they don’t have to arrange transportation.”

The Pinnows’ Pinn-Oak Ridge Farm is now the state’s largest lamb processing unit.  They are also proud to say the Pinnow family farm is over a century old.

The following is a list of other grants received by Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms:

  • Value-Added Producer Grant for “Direct Marketing of Wisconsin Lamb TM” – matching funds for a $150,000 investment;
  • Farm Service Agency Equipment Loan to develop rotational grazing, including a watering system and fencing – $10,000; and
  • Wisconsin Agricultural Development and Diversification grant for “Developing Quality and Uniformity Standards for Marketing WisconsinLamb TM” – $25,000

To contact Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms, LLC for more information, call (262) 728-9629 or visit www.wisconsinlamb.com

Categories: Commodity, Crop Insurance & Credit Programs, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Rural Development

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