Valley Natural Foods, Burnsville, Minn., announced plans to open Valley Natural Meats, Inc., a $2 million wholesale meat processing plant in Northfield, Minn. Valley Natural Foods acquired 16 acres of land, including a building that will be retrofitted to meet the growing demand of livestock producers and serve the needs of family farms in 10 Southern Minnesota counties.

Valley Natural Meats will feature a 4,400-square-foot, MDA- and organic-certified meat processing plant and a 4,000-square-foot holding barn. The plant will also manufacture specialty and smoked and cured meats, jerky, hams and sausages for wholesale and retail customers. The company holds a permit to later add two 30×70-foot, hoop-type buildings for growing plants, herbs and flowers.

“Our new processing facility will be different from most smaller, niche plants in that it will process naturally and humanely raised, grass and organic-grain fed, locally produced meats, and will be one of a few certified, organic multi-species beef and meat processors in the entire state,” says Jason Harstad, chief executive officer, who also currently manages Valley Natural Food’s meat and seafood department and guides the development of its Down In The Valley brand meats.

Valley Natural Meats will begin operations later this year by processing approximately 25 head per day, including cattle and hogs. Phase 1 construction will begin this August, and is expected to be completed and operational in November. Phase 2 operations, planned for 2017, will include becoming USDA-certified to allow the sale of products outside of Minnesota and the processing of lamb and goats. Long-term processing of deer and bison is planned for 2018. 

“In Minnesota, particularly the South Central and Southwestern areas of the state, direct-market producers are faced with a lack of local processing capacity. This requires farmers to reserve processing time up to six months in advance, often resulting in the animals being ‘past prime’ for processing and causing instability of supplying their retail/wholesale channels,” says Harstad. “In addition, longer transport distances to processing facilities increases cost to the producers and can affect the health and quality of the animals. Given these conditions, we believe Valley Natural Meats can share and effectively manage the organic, natural market.”