Interview with Henning Sehmsdorf on the Mobile Processing Unit of Lopez Island
Posted by Grass-fed_Franny   
Monday, 05 January 2009 00:00


The Mobile Processing Unit (MPU) was developed by the Lopez Community Land Trust on Lopez Island in Washington State.  The MPU is a 26 ft-long trailer that carries a state of the art processing facility for slaughtering livestock on the farm. The mobile facility is inspected by a USDA representative, allowing the meat to legally be sold to consumers, restaurants, and stores directly from the farmer.  The unit is operated by the Island Grown Farmers Co-op, and rented out by Lopez Island farmers. In the absence of local slaughter facilities, most farmers and ranchers must ship their cattle hundreds of miles, often across state lines, to have their cattle processed.  The transport is costly, often stressful for the animals, and prevents many farmers from being able to sell their meat locally.  The MPU offers a localized solution.


The Lopez Island Community Land Trust (LCLT) operates a program for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) under which the MPU was developed.  I had the opportunity to interview Henning Sehmsdorf, owner of S&S Homestead Farm on Lopez Island.  Sehmsdorf served as director of the Lopez Island Community Land Trust and chair of the SARD committee when the concept for the MPU was initially developed.


What kind of options did farmers on Lopez Island have for selling beef locally before the MPU? Were citizens of the island able to eat grass-fed beef raised on the island?

 As far as I know, the only option people on the island had to eat grass-fed beef, was to buy a live animal and have a local butcher slaughter it for them. The usual procedure was for farmers to sell quarters of more of a beef animal to customers and then hire a state registered (not USDA-inspected) butcher who would come to the farm and slaughter the designated animal there. With the USDA-inspected mobile unit, the farmer has the additional option of selling to restaurants, local food stores, institutions such as the local school, at farmers' markets, as well as by the piece off the farm.


Do you think, with the cooperation of the USDA, that the MPU has the potential to revolutionize beef production and distribution in America?

 With the cooperation of USDA, the MPU could indeed revolutionize beef production and distribution in the U.S. by making it possible for small farmers to supply the food needs of their own communities. Today the bulk of beef production, processing and distribution is in the hands of some five giant corporations, to the detriment of food safety and of the quality and nutritional wholeness of meat products. Huge feed lots create largely unregulated bio-hazards (ground and air pollution), and they waste non-renewable energy. Large-scale food production produces cheap food but not good food, and it strips local communities of their own resources, while laying waste to the environment. If the USDA would prioritize small-scale, local food production, it would revolutionize how meat is produced and distributed in America, namely by making the type of small-scale infrastructure exemplified by the MPU generally available in rural communities throughout the land.


How is the MPU another step in reducing agricultural dependence on non-renewable energy in this country?

Use of he MPU by itself does, of course, not guarantee that the animals slaughtered have been grass-fed. The unit is available to organic as well as non-organic producers, who may raise and finish their cattle on grass or on grain, as they see fit. As a biodynamic producer who raises cattle entirely on farm-produced feeds, meaning grass-based forages, and uses only fertilizers produced from the manures of the animals, I am convinced that such methods also are the most energy-efficient and least dependent upon non-renewable energy since grass is grown using the inexhaustibly renewable energies of the sun. So the question whether the MPU could be "another step in reducing agricultural dependence on non-renewable energy" needs to be answered in the context of how individual farmers produce the animal to be slaughtered.


What kind of difference have you seen in the lives of the farmers and consumers of your community since the MPU was developed?

I do not have statistical data to answer this question; but anecdotal evidence tells me that the majority of consumers on our island continue to prioritize price, choice and convenience over food or ecological quality in purchasing meat for their tables. There is, however, a growing awareness in the community of how important our personal food choices are in shaping not only our personal health, but the economic and social health of our communities, as well ecological health. Direct sales off the farm are strong. What is needed are more small farmers who know how to produce healthful food in an ecologically responsible manner, and more consumers who understand the importance of such food, and are willing to put their money where their mouth is.


How does the Lopez Community Land Trust see the development of the MPU as part of their mission?

I am no longer a member of the board of directors of the Lopez Community Land Trust, and therefore cannot speak for how the Land Trust currently thinks about the MPU in the context of its mission.  [See note below from Sandy Bishop, Executive Director of Lopez CLT]  However, I was a director of LCLT and chairman of SARD (Committee on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development) when the MPU project was proposed (in fact I brought the proposal to the land trust and pursued it for a couple of years before funding could be found). At the time, the argument for LCLT to adopt the project was that it would support local, small-scale agriculture and community-based food security, offer nutritionally superior meat to local consumers, and improve animal welfare (by making shipment of slaughter animals to feed lots and off-island slaughter facilities unnecessary).

Note from Sandy Bishop: The goal of the Lopez Community Land Trust is to build a diverse, sustainable island community, specifically through programs that primarily support low-income households with the following integrated purposes: 

a. To acquire and hold land in trust in order to provide for permanently affordable housing. Homes shall be built and lands shall be used in an environmentally sensitive and socially responsible manner.
b. To provide permanently affordable access to land for such purposes as quality housing, sustainable agriculture and forestry, cottage industries and co-operatives by forever removing the land from the speculative market.
c. To develop and exercise responsible and ecological practices, which preserve, protect and enhance the land's natural attributes.
d. To serve as a model in land stewardship and community development by providing information, resources and expertise.

The MPU serves LCLT's purpose in several ways: it helps to maintain Lopez Island’s diversity by supporting small local meat producers who care deeply about their animals and the community of people they help feed.  The MPU also models sustainable community development by providing information, resources and expertise and is a responsible and ecological response to the ever faster disintegrating state of options for humane, safe animal slaughter.   



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