Black Earth Meats in squabble with neighbors and Village

Lee and Bartlett Durand

Black Earth Meats owner Bartlett Durand, at right. Photo by Flickr user Peter Durand [ChimpLearnGood], used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Linda Falkenstein recently had a great piece in Isthmus, in which she examines bad blood between Black Earth Meats on one side and some of their neighbors, as well as the Village of Black Earth, on the other.

I’ve long been a fan of Black Earth Meats, and I still am, given their commitment to promoting and distributing sustainably and humanely raised and processed meat. (Madisonians should check out their new shop, the Conscious Carnivore.) That said, Falkenstein deftly details some of the complexities of operating a slaughterhouse in a residential area. She opens her article this way:

Mary Mickelson lives two houses away from Black Earth Meats, a butcher shop and slaughterhouse right in the center of the town that gives it its name. She’s lived in her home for 40 years, during which time the building has always been a butcher shop and meat market.

But in the early days slaughter was one day a week, and the meat was all sold in the store in front, says Mickelson. “It was a mom-and-pop butcher shop.”

“The problems started about three and a half years ago,” Mickelson says, when Black Earth Meats’ business started to take off. Volume increased, says Mickelson. Problems she cites include noise from animals waiting for long periods in trucks, before being led into the slaughterhouse; animal parts remaining after slaughter or being poured into trucks; remnant pieces falling in the street; blood dripping from trucks or bins; and odors, especially in warm weather.

Falkenstein notes other occasional problems that have cropped up in the last 5+ years, but points out that

[Black Earth Meats owner Bartlett] Durand took over in 2008 and emphasized antibiotic- and hormone-free organic and grass-fed meats. The facility is considered suitable to slaughter animals from Wisconsin’s two farms certified by the Animal Welfare Approved program.

The area is currently zoned for grocery-retail, but the slaughtering operation has been allowed, as long as the physical footprint of the business does not grow.

The Village is trying to get the slaughter operation moved out of town. As Falkenstein details, Durand responded with a claim for damages against the Village, alleging that “‘frequent…and unsupportable complaints’ were made ‘with the stated intent of harassing BE Meats and impeding its business activities’; and that the village board directed deputies ‘to engage in selective and harassing enforcement actions with respect to any violation of Village Ordinances.'”

The full article warrants a read, so check it out here. I’m hoping that the parties can find a way to reach a fair and reasonable solution. As factory farms explode and meat processing operations continue to consolidate into enormous, dangerous, and cruel conveyor-belt operations, our food systems desperately need small-scale, local companies like Black Earth Meats and they farms that they work with.

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