West Kootenay’s only abattoir shuts down

Passmore Pluckers’ decision is a blow to the local poultry industry.

Passmore Pluckers is shutting down because its owners are retiring and can’t find a buyer. That means anyone in the West Kootenay who wants to raise poultry and sell it to retailers will have to have their birds processed at abattoirs in Grand Forks or Creston.

Local agricultural consultant Abra Brynne sees this as a local food security issue.

“To lose Passmore Pluckers would be devastating for anyone producing poultry for market,” she told the Star. “They would have to shut down.”

BC law requires anyone selling meat to retailers to have it processed in a licenced abattoir.

Judi Morton (pictured here) and Alex Berland have run Passmore Pluckers in the Slocan Valley for the past five years. Each year they have processed up to 5,000 chickens and a few hundred turkeys.

“We are not going to be operating this season,” Berland told the Star. “We are retiring. But we have not given up on finding a buyer. We have posted it outside the area. Up until the new year we were trying to find someone locally.”

Berland attributes the lack of sale to the fact that the business is financially marginal. He said a local group of residents recently explored the possibility of taking it over but found the financial reality too daunting.

“It is very tough to make a go of it, the labour inputs are high, and you can only charge the customers so much. We are small market here. Judi and I have subsidized it for five years with our free or cheap labour, so we put out proposals and offered to support another group in every possible way including helping them run it, leaving it on site for one or two seasons, giving them all the procedures, giving them good financial terms, but they realized that without some external financial support, mostly to buy the unit, they would never be able repay the loan.”

Berland says he applied to the Columbia Basin Trust and Slocan Valley Economic Development Commission and was turned down by both.

Why apply for funding for a private business? Because the abattoir is a community service that was helping to revitalize agriculture in the area, Berland says.

“We employed six people and produced 11 tons of finished poultry out of our unit last year. The value of that poultry was about $120,000. In the five years we operated it we processed a half million dollars worth of poultry, produced locally. People bought the feed locally, it meant income for the farmers.”

Some of Passmore Pluckers’ approximately 75 customers brought them up to 2,000 birds a year, but most operated on a smaller scale.

“Some came the first year with 25 birds,” Berland said, “and the next year they’d bring 50 or 60, telling us, ‘Well, it was so easy last year.’ It is a way to build food capacity in the region by making it easy for people to raise poultry in their back yard.”

The abattoir (pictured here and below) is certified organic and that’s what many consumers want, Berland says. “There is a lot of demand for the product. The Kootenay Co-op cannot meet the demand.”

He said local knowledge of how to raise and process meat contributes to local economic resilience, meaning West Kootenay residents don’t have to rely so much on outside sources for meat.

“We have economic problems in this part of the world, and the abattoir is not going to solve all of those, but it is part of a response to an uncertain food environment and an uncertain economic environment, and it appears it has failed.”

That failure will ripple out to poultry producers like Tamara Smith who runs Cripple Crow Ranch in Winlaw. She sells pastured certified organic poultry that was processed by Passmore Pluckers.

“I am pretty sure I am out of business,” she said. “If they are not operating, I am not operating. It hurts. I was doing better and better every year. I have had many compliments. I was doing everything I could. The abattoir is a piece of our local infrastructure.”

Berland is disappointed too.

“We put so much effort into it. I am still holding out a tiny hope that there will be some way to make it happen. That hope will last until we sell it out of the area. Then the door is closed. As long as it sits unsold on our property there is the prospect of a local group to develop and build the abattoir.”

In an interview with the Star last summer about Passmore Pluckers, Brynne emphasized her food security concerns.

“Whether people eat meat or not, having animals on the ground is vital because we need the most resilient ecosystems and food systems possible as we head into ever-increasing climate chaos as well as all the other chaos happening globally.

“The long supply chains we are accustomed to in our food systems are becoming so very vulnerable and the situation in California and all the forest fires around us underline this. Protein is essential for all of us and not all of us can source it all from plants.”

This story was updated on February 27 by adding the words “to retailers” to paragraphs one and four.

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