With small-scale central Island meat processing site numbers dwindling, a Nanaimo farmer wants to set up an abattoir for chickens, turkeys, ducks and other fowl.
Ben Glassen has applied to the Agricultural Land Commission for an Agricultural Land Reserve non-farm use permit that would see the facility established on leased land on Jingle Pot Road. His proposal would include a rotary scalder, plucker with feather chute, stainless work tables, a cooler, a freezer and an area for inspection.
While there were five red meat and five poultry facilities on the Island in 2018, two red meat and two poultry sites have closed, including one at Whiskey Creek in December 2020, according to Glassen. The small farm community currently has three options to process meat: Saanichton, Cobble Hill, which he says offers limited custom processing, and Black Creek, which can be inconvenient due to travel time, he said.
“In order for me to grow my farm, or for anyone else to even continue farming, we need options for meat processing,” Glassen said.
The site is situated in Regional District of Nanaimo Electoral Area C and the RDN electoral area services committee approved a motion July 8, voicing support for Glassen and recommending the ALC give approval. The motion will be forwarded to the RDN’s July 27 board meeting, where Glassen will also make a presentation.
Glassen said non-farm use is less prohibitive than farm use, which would require him to produce 50 per cent of the birds going through the plant. The capacity of the abattoir would be 300 birds per day, starting at three days a week, he said.
“In order to produce 50 per cent of the birds, just to operate three days a week, I would have to produce 4,200 turkeys,” said Glassen. “I would have to go into the quota system. In order to buy quota, it would be about $250,000 … I would also have to build an industry barn to fit their specifications for $250,000, also you’re not allowed to have quota unless you own the land, for another $250,000.
“Then I can build my plant for $250,000. So in order to process one chicken for a ‘farm mom,’ I would need $1 million, according to going through the quota system.”
Tyler Brown, RDN board chairperson, said there will be additional approvals needed from the RDN for the abattoir, including a temporary-use permit or zoning amendment, but such facilities are needed.
“If we’re going to support more localized agriculture, there’s a genuine need to make sure that the facilities in the region exist that can support those smaller-scale operators,” said Brown. “There’s barriers to smaller-scale operators within the industrialized agricultural system, which we inhabit. The majority of our food production comes from industrial scale, essentially corporations.”
Kim Smythe, Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, also believes such facilities are needed.
“There needs to be more small-scale food service in general and farm service, agricultural service and that would include abattoirs and dressing and butchering and all of that kind of stuff,” said Smythe. “There’s a conscious movement towards getting back to more agriculture in our area. Duncan is healthy, Comox Valley is healthy, Nanaimo is a decade behind both of those areas in food knowledge and food protection and local food production.”
When asked about meat processing sites closing, Glassen said there seems to be a reduced interest in farming. The average age of farmers is close to 60 years old, he said.
“They say any industry where the average age is over 35 is an industry in decline,” said Glassen. “Farming is [about] double that, the same with farm services. One of the red meat facilities and one of the poultry facilities, the owners passed away while still in operation with no succession plan. The other two, they finally gave up, threw in the towel and retired with no succession plan.
“If I’m the young man who has to take up the charge and build abattoir capacity on Vancouver Island, I suppose that’s the task I need to do in order to be able to continue farming.”