This summer saw the retirement of long-time WSU San Juan County Extension director, Dr. Tom Schultz. Among many notable accomplishments, Tom was a national leader in applying the resources of extension to solving some of the most intractable problems facing local food systems. A plant pathologist by training, along the way Tom also became an expert in participatory community development. Through a process that took years to bear fruit, Tom and determined San Juan Islands citizens worked as part of the Lopez Community Land Trust to identify and break down barriers to local food production and consumption. A concern dating back to the 1990s was the lack of local USDA-inspected meat processing. Island producers knew they had unique products that their neighbors and others looking for meat raised in a humane, healthy, and clean environment wanted to buy, yet the barriers seemed immense.
The 60-member cooperative now known as “Island Grown Farmers Cooperative” took root in 2000. Their first project was to build their own mobile meat processing facility. Acting on what many considered a pipe dream of obtaining USDA approval, this group enlisted the skills and talents of local residents to pioneer the design, construction, and launch of the first USDA-inspected mobile livestock unit in the country. There were many critics who argued that even if a USDA “grant of inspection” were obtained, processing at such a small scale could never be profitable.
Nevertheless, the group persisted, and Tom lent his full support, acquiring a market development grant from the Washington State Department of Agriculture that finally set dreams into motion. The first animals were processed in 2002, paving the way for a local meat market to emerge in the state of Washington and across the country.
Today, Washington boasts three cooperatively owned, small-scale USDA-inspected mobile meat processing facilities with a mission of opening up new markets for small and mid-sized producers. WSU Extension faculty also played a key role in facilitating the development of the community livestock processing facility in Stevens County. Similar facilities have been developed throughout the U.S. and even internationally based on the San Juan Island design. In our state local farmers and ranchers are once again raising meat for local eaters. Thank you, Tom! Your bold and creative vision has shown what a difference a county extension office can make.