USDA Funds Meat Locker Pilot at Cooperative Extension

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Photo by Fotolia/Sergey Lavrentev
This walk-in freezer initiative will help both the livestock market and consumers who are otherwise unable to store meat in bulk.

Consumers soon will be able to buy and store bulk quantities of local meats without having a home freezer, thanks to a new Meat Locker Pilot Project, funded in part by a grant from the USDA to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins). The project, which is expected to kick off in August 2013, will set up two walk-in freezers at downtown sites in Ithaca and Corning (NY) that consumers can rent to store their bulk meat purchases. Units will be large enough to hold an average quarter of beef, and will rent for $3 to $5 per month. Each site will be able to accommodate 50 consumers.

The new lockers will remove several barriers to consumer bulk meat purchases and could significantly increase livestock production and “freezer trade” meat sales throughout our region, according to Matt LeRoux, Agriculture Marketing Specialist at CCE-Tompkins, who developed the project. In his research on livestock marketing channels, LeRoux has found “freezer trade” (the direct sale of animals to the consumer by the whole, half, or quarter) to be the most profitable way for farmers to sell meat locally. Direct sales also offer consumers the greatest savings in price-per-pound; however, a survey of 200 Central New York residents identified lack of freezer space as one of their top reasons for not buying meat in bulk. This barrier is especially acute for families with limited incomes, apartment dwellers, and students who make up a large percentage the population in Ithaca, one of the project’s two test sites.

With the launch of the Meat Locker Pilot Project, consumers will be able to purchase bulk meat directly from producers who will have it cut, wrapped, frozen and delivered to the consumer’s locker for storage. Units will have a number and key lock, and will be open during certain hours each week (much like a CSA pick-up) with access to the units provided by a Meat Locker Manager during pick-up hours. Locker locations will be accessible to consumers on foot, by bicycle, bus and car, making this a realistic option for people of varied income levels.

The Meat Locker Pilot Project complements an existing meat marketing website, www.MeatSuite.com, developed at CCE-Tompkins in 2012. This searchable directory of Central New York farms enables consumers to identify farms that sell meats in bulk. The two resources are designed to work together to help consumers “find their farmer” and then “fill their freezer”.

CCE-Tompkins received a USDA Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant to test this marketing model; however, the award covers only 80 percent of the proposed budget. An online fundraising campaign is underway at MeatLocker.PeaksOverPoverty.org to raise the remaining $20,000 needed to implement the project.

For more information, visit www.CCETompkins.org/MeatLocker or Facebook at www.facebook.com/MeatLockerPilotProject. Please direct questions to Matt LeRoux, Agriculture Marketing Specialist, at (607) 272-2292 ext. 195 or email mnl28@cornell.edu.