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Small NC Animal Processing Plant Gets Boost from Tobacco Trust Fund Grant

It’s taken since 2003 to get the Foothills Pilot Plant in Marion, NC up and running, but running like the wind they have been since 2012. Also in 2012, the plant applied for and received a grant from the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. Amanda Carter, Outreach Coordinator and general manager of Foothills Pilot Plant;

“What we’ve done was, our growers association out here, the Independent Specialty Meat Processors Association of western North Carolina, got together to open this processing facility and we decided to apply for Tobacco Trust Fund money so that we could have someone on staff who understood both the grower’s perspective and the regulator’s perspective in order to have these tobacco farms in these economically challenged areas in rural western North Carolina move into a diversified farming model.”

Carter explains why the plant felt there was a need for an Outreach Coordinator to help farmers with the desire to transition out of tobacco production:

“Some people had already gone into small-scale vegetable production, there was a great deal of interest in small-scale poultry, and since we have this USDA inspected facility there are a lot more markets open to small-scale producers. And it w as apparent there was not outreach support from the state to go out and teach these people what our requirements were on our end and how to go about getting started in the pastured poultry business.”

Carter explains that the processing plant isn’t just for large-scale producers:

“My growers run the gamut from people who primarily produce for their family and may produce only 50 to 100 birds a year, to those that are serving restaurant clientele in major metropolitan areas in southern Appalachia and are raising five to eight-thousand birds a year.”

While the plant only processes, in a fee-for-service environment chickens and rabbits, Carter says she encourages growers to diversify:

“We like to joke that chickens are the gate-way drug to red meat. Because once they start raising these small animals, and the clients they have are interested in other meats from the same farm, they find themselves just exploring these other avenues. And I really stress to my grower community that diversification is the key to survival in a competitive, highly educated, specialty food market.”

And with their USDA certification, the Foothills plant allows those that utilize the facility the ability to compete on any level explains Carter:

“There are only four USDA inspected independent poultry processing facilities in the southeast. North Carolina is blessed with two of them. And as scrutiny of the health department level of what restaurants are using for inputs increases..people who operate restaurants are having to go to greater lengths to determine the safety of the food products that are coming into their establishment. When you have that USDA stamp, you’re saying ‘look, we meet all of the same criteria of safety of production and wholesomeness of product that any other industrial scale meat processor is having to meet.’”

For more from Amanda Carter, as well as our series on grant utilization, visit our website, SFNToday dot com. is dedicated to serving the agricultural industry in the Carolinas and Virginia with the latest ag news, exclusive regional weather station readings, and key crop market information. The website is a companion of the Southern Farm Network, provider of daily agricultural radio programming to the Carolinas since 1974. presents radio programs, interviews and news relevant to crop and livestock production and research throughout the mid-Atlantic agricultural community.