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Cooperative poultry processing plant now open in Hamilton

Montana Farmers Union has announced that a partnership with the Montana Poultry Growers Co-op has resulted in a co-op run poultry processing facility near Hamilton at Homestead Organics Farm. Last week the co-op owned facility received the official license to operate from the Montana Department of Livestock. Bureau Chief Gary Hamel presented the license to co-op members and managers Laura Garber of Homestead Organics Farm, Beau McLean and Chris Greene of Living River Farms and Jan Tusick with Lake County Community Development.
“The facility looks good,” said Hamel. “This is going to be a nice operation.”
The facility is the only cooperatively run poultry facility in the nation. It is located on Homestead Organics Farm which is owned by Garber and Henry Wuensche. The two recognized a growing need for locally grown poultry which prompted them to act. The project was funded by Montana Farmers Union/Farmers Union Industries, a Growth Through Agriculture Grant and the Lake County Community Development program.
“Montana Farmers Union is proud to support a project like this one particularly because it is a co-op model and will benefit countless farmers in the state.” said President Alan Merrill.
The project was provided technical support from Lake County Community Development Corporation’s Cooperative Development Program. Jan Tusick, program director, assisted the cooperative in fundraising, fiscal management and food safety planning. Tusick said the goal of the cooperative model is not profit driven, but rather a great example of how successful this type of collaboration can be for farmers and the agriculture community.
“All the members of the cooperative can use this facility. Members of the co-op can have their birds processed here legally and then go into commerce,” said Tusick. “This model doesn’t exist nationally. It is our hope that more states will follow our lead.”
Garber, McLean and Greene were instrumental in getting the project off the ground. The project began in 2013 when market research showed a real demand for locally raised chickens. According to McLean, the biggest challenge was not having a place to process the birds. McLean and Greene will manage the plant’s operations and are certified by the Halal Food Standards Alliance of America (HFSAA) to do so.
To join the co-op a member pays a fee of $100 and must carry their own liability insurance. There is an additional fee per bird for processing. In order to process their own birds, they too would have to become HFSAA certified and receive additional in-house training. A state inspector must be present during processing which will take place on Wednesdays.
The facility operates under one license. McLean said policies and procedures are very important to maintain the license, but also the integrity of the facility.
“We are extremely proud of the work that has been done here,” said McLean. “We receive inquiries daily from producers looking for such a facility and from restaurants who wish to purchase the birds and support Montana farmers.”
Construction of the facility began in December using local contractors, volunteers and the co-op managers who worked tirelessly to finish the project. McLean and Garber expect to maximize the one day a week they can operate by processing upwards of 500 birds a day.
“The cooperative would like to thank all cooperative and community members who supported the Kickstarter campaign that got the project going,” said Tusick. “A very special thank you to Laura Garber, Homestead Organics and Beau McLean and Chris Green, Living River Farm. Without the vision and support of these members the facility would not have become a reality.”
For more information contact Homestead Organics Farm at 363-6627.

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Ali 7 1 16

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Owner Bunny Robbins dispenses one of the fine olive oils now available at Robbins on Main in Hamilton. Daphne Jackson photo.

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Owner Brian Jackson in his Corvallis greenhouse.

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