By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
LANSING, Mich. — Byron Center Meats is one of 10 recipients of a total of more than $1.1 million in grants awarded to projects by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), under the competitive Value Added and Regional Food System Grant Program.
The business was awarded a grant for $124,700 to establish a federally-inspected mobile harvesting unit to enhance the marketing of Michigan livestock producers’ meats. “While there are other mobile slaughter units in West Michigan, this will be the first USDA-inspected unit,” said co-owner Laura Sytsma.
The business recently purchased a unit from an individual in Washington.
“It is in working order. We have used it ourselves,” she said. “The grant is going to allow us to equip that unit, train our people and position us in a way to gain that USDA inspection. That’s the piece that the grant really enables us to bring to our customers.”
Currently, farmers who choose an on-farm kill must sell the animal prior to slaughter or use the meat for personal consumption. The USDA on-farm kill allows a farmer or producer to sell the meat commercially.
“They can go to a restaurant, or a farmers’ market or to open an on-farm store with those cuts. It just opens up those marketing options for people,” Sytsma said. “By them being able to expand their business, that brings more processing to us. It just supports Michigan farms and businesses.”
Sytsma said Byron Center Meats hopes to attract new customers as well as to better serve current customers who have expressed interest in this service. The business custom-processes primarily beef, pork, lamb, goat and bison. It works with several different harvesters, both on- and off-farm, and the meat is then delivered to Byron Center Meats to be processed, cut and packaged.
“This is our first grant, so it’s a whole new process for us. We’re excited about what it’s going to do for our business,” Sytsma said.
Peter Anastor, director of MDARD's Agriculture Development Division, said while the individual grants may seem modest, the collective impact on Michigan agriculture industry growth and jobs is significant.
“These grants have an amazingly significant impact in the companies. A lot of times what they can do is allow those companies to take the next step in their growth,” he said.
“If we can help them make their products more efficient or purchase some equipment that allows them to increase their capacity, this allows them to increase the markets they are selling into. We find that these grant dollars really can go a long way in helping some of our small- and medium-sized companies continue to grow and leverage opportunities that they’re seeing here in Michigan.”
Anastor said in addition to business growth, the grant dollars impact the communities in which the businesses are located.
“The companies are making investments and creating jobs in those communities. This is part of the whole value chain that we are trying to support as much as we can,” he said. “We hear a lot about how much these grants really help move these companies forward.”
Other grant recipients include:
•Farm to Freezer in Detroit was awarded $125,000 for the installation of cutting-edge equipment to flash freeze Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables
•Johnston's Meats LLC in Peck was awarded $125,000 to earn a USDA “inspection through processing” certification and install new equipment that will increase the sale of value-added meat products
•Todd Greiner Farms Packing LLC in Hart was awarded $125,000 to install value-added equipment for fresh, microwaveable, bagged asparagus
•Superior Honey Farm LLC in Chassell was awarded $11,100 to expand processing and develop a new product line of creamed honey
•Snackwerks of Michigan LLC in Battle Creek was awarded $125,000 to build a contract bakery food production line and enhance capability
•Wunsch Farms in Traverse City was awarded $125,000 to create a high-tech packing infrastructure to catalyze the Michigan fresh sweet cherry industry
•Oomen Farms Ltd. in Hart was awarded $125,000 to install equipment for value-added processing of Michigan-grown carrots, zucchini and other vegetables to a more consumer- and processor-ready form
•Mackinac Trail Winery, Inc. in Petoskey was awarded $110,000 to establish a custom bottling service for “Tip of the Mitt” hard cider and sparkling wine producers, using apples, grapes, cherries and other fruits
•Stuart Family Organics LLC in Custer was awarded $9,700 to launch a farm-to-customer special transitory food unit in western Michigan
MDARD received 85 proposals with requests totaling more than $8.3 million. A 30 percent match of funds is required by grant recipients.