BOW — Each week, Island Grown Farmers Cooperative travels to farms in Skagit and surrounding counties to offer U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified mobile slaughter services.

The meat is then butchered and processed at the co-op’s cut and wrap facility on D’Arcy Road, and sold at local stores, restaurants and a retail shop on-site.

The co-op started in 2002 with the purchase of the USDA-certified mobile slaughter unit, the first in the nation, said co-op manager Jim Wieringa. Now the co-op is up to 80 members — mostly small livestock producers — across five counties, he said.

“There’s more people that want to join,” Wieringa said. “We’ve exceeded capacity. We’re looking at options for expansion.”

The co-op has brought in trailers to add cooler storage and is looking for additional plant space, he said.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, toured the plant Wednesday.

Wieringa said he believes the co-op has been successful thanks to the services offered to members, including the USDA certification, which means a USDA inspector is present during both slaughter and processing.

The USDA stamp allows members to sell their meat by the package in smaller quantities. Otherwise, farmers can only sell larger cuts of meat or live animals at livestock auctions, where they may be sold to larger slaughterhouses, he said.

“It’s cutting out the middleman,” Wieringa said.

When the animals are slaughtered on-site, the farmer can be sure the animals receive humane treatment, said co-op board member Rhonda Gothberg of Gothberg Farms, a goat dairy and cheese producer in Bow.

“Grown here, butchered here, sold here,” is also a marketing tool for farmers, Wieringa said.

The co-op helps support the livelihood of area farmers, he said.

“All these farms are operating because we’re operating,” he said.

Species include cows, pigs, goats, lambs and sheep. The plant employs five full-time and several part-time workers.

Gothberg said consumers should expect to pay a little more for quality and nutritious meat.

“It costs more because we’re doing it on a small scale,” she said. “To do it right, and to make sure each animal gets what it needs.”

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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