A popular and well-known organic meat company is being forced to close after being deemed a “public nuisance” by a local governmental agency, its owner says.
The Black Earth Meats company in Wisconsin says it is closing after officials with the town of Black Earth voted to take legal action against the company to shut it down, a step that led the company’s bank not to renew a note critical to the company’s survival.
Problems between the owner and the town have been ongoing for several years, and most of the angst involves the growth of the business. Black Earth Meats was one of the few companies in the entire nation that was Animal Welfare Approved, certified organic, and USDA inspected, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. The facility had been a butcher shop for decades before Bartlett Durand purchased it in 2008.
“I was up to 47 employees, with a business ready to take off, investors interested, banks interested. They’re suddenly taking away the engine (the loan) that drives the whole thing,” Durand told The Capital Times. “Most of the people in the village have been very supportive of us. A few neighbors are not.”
The company has sued the town, alleging that town trustees abused due process and targeted the organic meat company, denying it the ability to use its property as a slaughterhouse. Black Earth Meats is asking for $5.3 million in damages.
According to Durand, before he purchased it the business was struggling and open just one day per week. Durand started a small scale sustainably raised and antibiotic-free meat endeavor. As the business grew it attracted both a plethora of media attention and 200 farmers from Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Black Earth Meats ultimately began producing its own line of meats and provided butcher services for cows, lamb, pigs and other forms of livestock.
Elected officials in the village of about 1,300 people have claimed that a slaughterhouse on a residential street is a public nuisance. The street where the business is located is zoned for grocery-retail. Slaughtering was permitted as long as the company’s “footprint,” which was established in 1973, did not grow larger.
Said Durand, “I am concerned for all our business partners and those who support us and them, that it will be much more difficult, and expensive, to get good meat. I am concerned that this will set back the progress made in local food systems in the area. I am concerned that the model we have formed and proven out will not have the chance to duplicate and change the way we grow and distribute food.”
Black Earth Meats slaughtered all of its livestock by the end of July and began selling off the last of its products to prepare for closure.
Residents complained that animals waited “long periods” in trucks and that some remnant pieces or blood fell onto the street. Durand created a “good neighbor committee” and thought all involved felt that the alleged issues were resolved and a line of communication was now easily available.
The Black Earth Meats Facebook page read:
In some cases our neighbors made dozens of phone calls every day to Village Hall to complain over nothing. Police or Village workers would come over to investigate the calls and they would find nothing wrong. I can tell in the case of an investigation from the Dane County Health Department late last summer they received 47 calls in one day from the same number complaining about flies and when he came out to see for himself there were none. The retail portion of the building is 1/10 of total. The Slaughter portion is over 50% of it. Slaughter has been the main business of this location since the 1950’s. It slaughtered for the local farmers, not only for their own personal meat consumption but for them to sell to customers directly.
Black Earth Meats did about $6 to $9 million in sales per year.
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