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Mobile slaughterhouse ready for chickens

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CANTON — What will be the nation’s only U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved mobile chicken slaughterhouse was unveiled Thursday at Sugar Hill Farm in DeKalb, town of Canton.

“This is an important transformational date for the north country,” said Renee C. Smith, North Country Pastured, owner of the processor. “It’s only the first step.” The long-awaited mobile processor will allow north country farmers interested in expanding chicken production to sell USDA-certified birds to large institutions such as Clarkson University and United Helpers as well as to restaurants and consumers. It will be able to slaughter poultry humanely and can be set up for certified organic products.

The unit will travel to farms or central locations throughout the north country to process poultry to USDA standards. Over the past year, North Country Pastured has purchased the mobile unit and a truck to haul it, and put up a 1,500-square-foot processing facility.

The mobile slaughterhouse also could lead to more agricultural diversification and value-added products.

“We’re just scratching the surface,” said state Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, who toured the mobile unit.

The processor already has contributed to the formation of the North Country Regional Food Hub, a corporation created by North Country Pastured and Sparx — a for-profit business started by United Helpers — whose goal is to aggregate and market local food. The slaughterhouse — which also can process rabbits — may be why the north country came out in front in the state’s first regional economic development competition. Officials listening to a litany of presentations all wanted to hear why the region considered a “chicken plucker” a priority project, said Anthony G. Collins, president of Clarkson University and co-chairman of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

“I can’t imagine something more imaginative,” he said. “I think it’s what pushed us over the hump. I still remember people sitting bolt upright.”

The processor was awarded $130,000 in the first round of funding and will create four jobs in the town of Canton.

The St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency, through the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, provided a $50,000 grant toward the purchase of the mobile unit and the town of Canton, through its regional business enterprise grant program, has helped with working capital.

Despite its rural geography and dependence on dairy as its predominant agriculture industry, the north country is a gaping hole when it comes to diversified food production.

“We find ourselves in the middle of the largest food desert in the northeast,” Ms. Smith said.

The mobile unit could be a factor in changing that, Mrs. Russell said.

“It’s difficult to hear that St. Lawrence County, which is a powerhouse in agriculture, is also a food desert,” she said.

The north country is starting to have success with value-added products, IDA Executive Director Patrick J. Kelly said, pointing to the growth of High Peaks Winery in Parishville, the St. Lawrence Brewing Co. in Canton and North Country Grown Cooperative.

Having food grown and processed locally is a draw to certain consumer groups and farmers, said William “Liam” Hunt, a partner in North Country Pastured.

“We can attract people like that,” he said. “Potentially, this is a very rich county agriculturally.”

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