MAPLETON, Maine — Troy Haines, owner of SPW Meat Cutting, has another busy meat-cutting season ahead of him, with hunters bringing in game from sunrise until well into the evening hours. While business is good, he hopes to one day be involved in something on a much larger scale — a federally approved meat processing facility that would mean more year-round jobs for County people.
“We have 36 people on staff this year, of which approximately 14 are new hires. For fall help I hire the full crew for about nine weeks, and some of the crew work an additional six weeks or so with setup as well as bear and deer season,” said Haines.
Haines said business is good, especially this time of year.
“One of every eight moose harvested in the state of Maine this week was brought to SPW Meat Cutting in Mapleton for processing. We have a busy few weeks ahead of us. I guess people like what we do,” Haines said.
He said it’s more than just hunters who can benefit from his services and those of others in the profession however.
The closest U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected meat processing facility to Aroostook is in Dover-Foxcroft or Waterville — more than 300 miles away round trip — for local cattle farmers.
Haines hopes to reduce the cost of travel and meat processing for Aroostook farmers by building a $1.3 million plant and finishing farm. Of the total cost, $800,000 is for the processing plant, while the remainder, $500,000, would be for the farm.
“A finishing farm is a farm animals are brought to before slaughter, where they’re fed a consistent diet, thus creating the same meat product on a regular basis,” Haines explained. He said that how businesses like McDonald’s get meat that consistently tastes the same.
“I have been working on numbers and historical information for a USDA facility for about five years now in an attempt to turn the eyes of this state, including the state government, toward Aroostook County for protein production. The benefits of having infrastructure here in Aroostook is that studies show that over the next three decades as much as 50 percent of the calories consumed in the greater Northeast will be produced in Aroostook as the result of rising food costs, change in our food systems and a decentralization of production/processing,” Haines said.
For centuries, Aroostook has been touted for its agricultural ventures — most notably potato farming. Haines said it’s time to look to our roots to make the region an economically viable area once again.
“The reason Aroostook is so important is that it has more open agricultural land than the rest of New England put together — including the rest of the state of Maine,” said Haines. “But in the last 100 years we’ve lost 197,000 acres of potatoes alone.”
He said the creation of a processing facility in The County would result in much-needed revenue and jobs.
“The estimated economic impact yearly to farmers and the community runs about $34 million, including 200 new jobs on family farms. Our facility would start out employing five to 10 full-time workers and 30-40 seasonal staff,” he said.
Money for the project would come from various sources.
“Funding for this project is being pursued through investment from groups who focus on sustainable food systems as well as rural economic development funds and good old-fashioned underwriting of debt through traditional mortgages,” Haines said.
Haines sees the idea as a viable means of creating jobs and boosting the economy.
“In addition to the direct jobs this facility would create, it would potentially keep millions of dollars in Aroostook that are currently going to places like Pennsylvania in the form of processing, as well as revitalizing the family farm and creating hundreds of new jobs — both in farming and ancillary businesses, such as distribution, marketing, custom hauling, etc.,” said Haines.
Haines did not specify who might be partnered in the project, nor did he say if there was a specific site selected for construction of such a facility.
Cattle farmers — such as Woodland residents Stan and Gail Maynard and Castle Hill residents Derek and Joanna Richards — would be among those who would benefit from having a meat processing plant in Aroostook County.
“Having a facility in Aroostook would be a major benefit to our farm. My husband currently has to take cattle to southern Maine to a federally authorized processing site. Having something closer would save us money and the time it takes to transport cattle,” said Joanna Richards.