Deal Nears for Operation of New Southern Catskills Slaughterhouse

It takes Sean Zigmund most of a whole day to drive his pigs from his White Sulphur Springs farm to the nearest slaughterhouse.

It’s two hours each way from Root ‘n’ Roost Farm  to Larry’s Custom Meats, 80 miles away in Otsego County. From mid-spring to Thanksgiving, Zigmund leaves his farm about every two weeks to take pigs to Larry’s or chickens to Eklund Processing in Delaware County.

If a proposal submitted to the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency this month is successful, southern Catskills farmers like Zigmund will find a major long-standing obstacle to marketing their pigs, cattle, sheep and goats lifted.

“Farmers’ time is precious. When you’re doing this 24/7, every second counts,” said Amy Erlwein of the Sullivan County Farm Network, an advocacy group. “Having a facility much closer directly impacts farmers’ ability to make money.”

For more than a decade, Sullivan County farmers have waited, exasperated, as various governmental agencies struggled to bring a local slaughterhouse off the drawing board and into action. The $1.7 million Southern Catskills Red Meat Facility, as it is not-so-poetically named, has been hotly debated and desperately desired in the farming community.

“It would mean we’d travel 10 minutes each way–20 minutes round-trip–rather than four hours,” Zigmund said. “So it’s huge.”

This month, the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) received one bid–and only one bid–in response to its request for proposals to operate the 5,000-square-foot processing plant in Liberty, which broke ground in October 2013. IDA officials are working with the applicant, which is promising, said Jen Flad, the vice president of business development at the IDA, which took over the helm of the project about six years ago.

“We got one proposal, and we’re really excited about it,” Flad said . “I’m very optimistic that it’s now moving forward.”

Because contract negotiations are under way, Flad declined to name the company, but said that a public presentation could come as soon as the IDA board’s next meeting in mid-September.

In the meantime, the exterior of the building is complete, and electrical work is progressing at the site, just off Willow Lane near Liberty’s wastewater treatment plant. The slaughterhouse is funded largely through grants, including $320,000 from the Upstate Regional Blueprint Fund and $800,000 in federal funds. It is expected to be U.S. Department of Agriculture certified, meaning meat processed there will have wide marketability, including to New York City restaurants eager to serve Catskill-raised beef and pork.

Sullivan County farms’ proximity to hungry urbanites has long been touted as an advantage by economic development officials, but a lack of infrastructure, including a USDA-certified slaughterhouse, has been a large roadblock to developing a downstate customer base.

“We have the land and the metropolitan area has the demand,” said Sullivan County Legislator Cindy Geiger, a dairy farmer and co-founder of the Sullivan County Farm Network. “We’ve needed a plan to move the meat out.”

News that the slaughterhouse may actually open soon has been a long time coming, said Erlwein, who ran a dairy farm in Jeffersonville for 30 years before recently switching to hay and produce.

“Farmers have been disillusioned with how slowly this has happened. It has taken entirely too long,” Erlwein said. “But if there’s one thing you can say about farmers, it’s that every year, there’s new hope–otherwise we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing.”

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