Carl Cushing owns Vermont Livestock Slaughter and Processing in Ferrisburgh. Including his wife, Karen, and his son, Ryan, he has just nine employees.
That number may almost triple as Cushing pursues a major expansion project, aided by a $1.1 million grant commitment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“As we are today, we’re an average facility in Vermont,” he said. “When we get to full capacity, we would be one of the bigger ones.”
The business processes about 50 animals — cows, hogs and lambs — per week, though that workload can vary, Cushing said.
The expansion plan includes constructing a new barn, which is nearly completed, rebuilding another room and adding two new coolers and a new slaughter floor. Then, the company will tear down the old processing room and build a larger one, along with a new freezer, office, customer entryway, storage room and break room, Cushing said.
“We’ll have a bigger processing room, we’ll have a bigger freezer and we’ll have new equipment from one end to the other,” Cushing said, noting that the company also plans to add solar panels in December.
Cushing said this project is the first major change he’s overseen since becoming owner of the meat processing business in 2007. “We made a couple of minor expansions after we got started, but we got to the point where we needed to completely redo it,” he said.
As for increasing the amount of animal processing, Cushing said, “That is the goal. Within the first 12 months after completion, we hope to double and my goal would be to triple very quickly thereafter.”
But to do so, Cushing says, he’ll need help. He aims to add 15 to 20 employees to his current roster of nine.
As of now, Cushing does not have an exact cost estimate for the expansion but said the federal grant is a “very significant part of what we’re doing here.”
The grant will come through the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program, which provided $73 million to 21 projects in the first round of the program, according to USDA. The goal is to “encourage competition and sustainable growth” and “improve supply chain resiliency,” according to the program.
The specific grant for Vermont Livestock Slaughter and Processing is aimed at increasing local job opportunities, tripling the capacity for animal processing, and increasing energy efficiency, said Sarah Waring, state director of USDA Rural Development in Vermont and New Hampshire, in a press release.
“This is a significant upgrade to that facility, which should really increase the number of animals that can go through that facility,” said Anson Tebbetts, Vermont’s secretary of agriculture, food and markets. “It’s a domino effect from that.”
Tebbetts said the expanded operation should give more farmers a reliable place to take their animals. On the consumer side, more Vermonters will know that their food is sourced locally.
“During the pandemic, we saw some disruption of the food chain,” and mainly because it was a national and international system, Tebbetts said. “We’re trying to bolster Vermont’s system and the regional system so we can produce more local food here, so it doesn’t break down as much as it did.”
Tebbetts said Cushing’s project is also benefiting from a $100,000 grant from the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, which has approved grants for six other facilities in the state.
“There’s a possibility that we could be investing more state dollars down the road in the next few weeks,” Tebbetts said.
The federal grant was awarded to Cushing under the umbrella of the American Rescue Plan Act, an economic recovery plan developed by the Biden administration as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the press release. Grants can range up to $25 million, or “20% of total project costs,” and there is no minimum size for the grants, according to the program details.
The grant money can be used for a variety of expansion possibilities, such as building or modernizing processing facilities and equipment, meeting safety or packaging standards, increasing food safety, and adding jobs, according to the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program.
Want to stay on top of the latest business news? Sign up here to get a weekly email on all of VTDigger’s reporting on local companies and economic trends. And check out our new Business section here.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)