Western Md. steaking its reputation
OAKLAND, Md. — The coronavirus may be sparking new interest in custom meat processing in Garrett County.
One processor is already under construction, and the county’s economic development department has fielded inquiries from three other interested parties, said Cheryl DeBerry, the department’s natural resources business specialist.
John Hayhurst, former owner of the Butcher Block, a meat wholesaler, retailer and custom processor near Oakland, is opening another processor on Kings Run Road, DeBerry said. Hayhurst’s facility would join two others already established in the county, including his former USDA-certified processor, which he sold last year. It was renamed Farm 2 Table Direct.
Details were scant last week, and Hayhurst could not be reached for comment.
The Delmarva region has struggled with a shortage of meat processors for years, and the coronavirus exacerbated the problem as consumers, frustrated by empty grocery store shelves in March, turned to local producers for meat and other staples.
“With COVID, more people were interested in buying in bulk and stocking up,” DeBerry said. “People have been having to harvest animals earlier, so the plants have been very busy.”
Her office helps prospective business owners navigate the state and local government approvals process among other services.
Farmers for years have bemoaned the region’s shortage of processing capacity, which can lead to months-long waits for slaughtering and hours-long drives to processors. Efforts to expand processing capacity in the region have struggled with regulatory hurdles and a shortage of qualified labor.
With the assistance of the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, an Amish community opened Westham Butcher Shop, a custom processor in Mechanicsville, last year, following years of unsuccessful effort by the commission to open its own. It’s offering custom processing services and awaits USDA certification.
It’s unclear when Hayhurst’s new processor will open, DeBerry said.
“The building’s looking pretty much finished, on the outside anyway,” she said.
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