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North Country Pastured hits roadblocks with mobile poultry processor

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CANTON — North Country Pastured has run into so many roadblocks that its mobile poultry slaughterhouse is no longer operating.

The processor, which was unveiled with great fanfare last summer, was to be the nation’s only U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved mobile unit.

“All I know is the mobile processing unit is not functioning,” said Brent A. Buchanan, an agricultural issues leader with Cornell Cooperative Extension. “It was just one thing after another.”

North Country Pastured’s difficulties are a blow to the local food movement and to poultry farmers who hoped to use the processor to sell USDA-certified birds to larger institutions, such as Clarkson University, Potsdam, as well as to restaurants and other consumers.

William A. “Liam” Hunt, one of the partners in North Country Pastured, along with Ellen J. Rocco, Rick Welsh and Renee C. Smith, said they had agreed that Mrs. Smith would be their spokeswoman. Mrs. Smith, who is the manager of North Country Pastured, did not return calls for comment.

The company was a key part of North Country Regional Food Hub, a corporation created by North Country Pastured and Sparx — a for-profit business started by United Helpers — whose goal is to aggregate and market local food.

“We are not working together, currently,” United Helpers CEO Stephen E. Knight said.

Mr. Knight declined comment on what went wrong.

“That’s between North Country Pastured and us,” he said.

North Country Pastured was the recipient of a number of financial awards. The St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency, through the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, provided a $50,000 grant and a $50,000 loan. The USDA, through the town of Canton, provided a $30,000 loan that was secured by the pickup truck purchased to haul the mobile unit.

“We have carried on for the past nine months an ongoing dialog between North Country Pastured and the town on how we can strengthen their operation,” Canton Supervisor David T. Button said.

Additional help came from the Seaway Private Equity Corp.

The project also was awarded a $130,000 state grant in the first round of funding through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. North Country Pastured was supposed to create four jobs.

Mr. Buchanan said he did not think North Country Pastured received any of the state award because it could not meet targets in the grant, nor did he think it ever achieved USDA certification.

“They didn’t believe they had sufficient numbers to process to get the unit up and running,” he said.

The company ran into a number of problems with making the unit travel from farm to farm regionally because of requirements for USDA certification, which would have meant paying travel time for inspectors or working out a schedule with inspectors in different areas, Mr. Buchanan said.

The design of the truck was also problematic.

Mr. Buchanan said the unit’s suspension was off, possibly because the fabricators, Brothers Body & Equipment, Galion, Ohio, were unfamiliar with the equipment needed for the processor and how it would ride in the unit. Brothers primarily makes equipment for the military.

The arrangement of equipment within the unit was cumbersome, said Nancy J. Lynch, Gramma’s Grass Acres, 485 Porter Lynch Road, Brookdale. Ms. Lynch, who raises about 2,000 chickens every year, took about 100 birds to North Country Pastured’s unit when it was parked at Mrs. Smith’s Sugar Hill Farm near DeKalb Junction in the town of Canton.

Ms. Lynch offered to help out with the processing of her chickens because she was curious about the unit.

“It was a very poor design, not on Renee’s part. Some of the design was not efficient,” she said. “It was very discouraging. It has to be terribly disappointing for the Smiths.”

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