The Foothills Pilot Plant is open for fully-inspected poultry and rabbit processing as of this week. Located at 135 Ag Services Drive off of N.C. 226 South, the plant is a collaboration of state and local governments, small-scale meat producers and grant-making agencies. It is operated under joint authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Aministration to provide “regional growers with the opportunity to market their meat products to a broader consumer base.”
The plant will process chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits and geese for small growers throughout western North Carolina. The meat processed at this plant can be transported and sold across state lines, said General Manager Paljinder “Pal” Manhiani.
“This is to help the small farmers who cannot have access to USDA inspections on their farms,” said Manhiani.
The Foothills Pilot Plant is the only USDA-inspected facility serving independent poultry growers in the Southern Appalachian region. The meat processed and packaged here will have USDA stamps so it can be sold in different states.
“With this facility in place, they can focus on raising their small animals and marketing,” said Manhiani.
A news release stated that the plant is set to open as of Sunday, Jan. 15. However, Manhiani said a local grower is set to bring his chickens for processing today and will be the first meat processed at the site.
Casey McKissick with Foothills Family Farms will be that grower. His farm in Crooked Creek raises pastured chicken, beef and pork.
“It will allow us to expand our farm and better meet the demands for our poultry,” he said to The McDowell News. “We have a high demand and it will allow us to supply more chicken.”
McKissick said his family-operated farm sells its products through farmer’s markets, restaurants and some retail stores.
“We are excited about it,” he said. “The plant will allow us to ramp up production. We have new opportunities for farming because of this.”
The new Foothills Pilot Plant will start off by working with around 40 farms throughout western North Carolina that have expressed an interest. Manhiani said he’s getting calls from growers in South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia too.
“The operation of the first non-profit, USDA & FDA-inspected poultry and rabbit processing facility designed for independent producers is expected to have major impacts on the viability of local food systems throughout the Appalachian region,” said Amanda Carter, community outreach coordinator for the plant.
Additionally, the plant is working to become certified as “Animal Welfare Approved,” demonstrating a commitment to low-stress, humane handling of the animals at the site. Project leaders have spent five years bringing this resource to the community; plant oversight is provided by the McDowell County Economic Development Association (MEDA) and an advisory board comprised of professionals with related expertise.
Chickens, turkeys, rabbits and other specialty fowl will be processed on a fee-for-service basis into retail-ready, custom-labeled packages according to the clients’ needs. The animals will be brought to the plant where they will be slaughtered and their meat processed. The final product will be packaged meat that can be picked up by the grower so he can sell it at local stores, farmer’s markets or other places.
The facility is operated as a processing service to independent growers in the region and does not take possession of animals or meat products.
When the concept was first discussed by county officials, some residents in the area were very concerned about the smell or the noise associated with such a plant. Both county officials and Smithson Mills, who was the lead manager for the project, said at the time this would not be a large poultry-raising facility, like some of the big chicken farms in other places. It will be more of a small slaughtering facility. No tractor-trailers will go in and out of the site and there won’t be much manure to smell either.
Every day, the waste from the plant will be taken to the transfer station for disposal. “It is not too much high volume,” said Manhiani. “We want to make sure we do a safe and quality product.”
The Foothills Pilot Plant will have around 10 to 12 hourly workers. Manhiani said he will be the only full-time employee.
“The first few months, it will be on a demand basis,” he said, adding the operations could grow later.
Manhiani, 31, got his bachelor’s degree in food science and technology and his master’s degree in food technology in India. He came to the United States to pursue his doctorate degree. He earned his doctorate in food technology, specializing in poultry, at Clemson University.
In addition to its processing services, Foothills Pilot Plant will work with the producers it serves to develop best practices for small-scale meat animal production and share this information with the community. “This facility is an integral step in building resilient, sustainable local food systems,” reads a news release.
For more information or to schedule a processing, contact Paljinder Manhiani, plant manager, at (828) 803-2717 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is available at the website, www.foothillspilotplant.com.