The state's largest slaughterhouse is about to get even bigger.
Vermont Packinghouse recently received an Act 250 permit for a $1 million expansion.
The project will double the capacity of the North Springfield slaughterhouse that specializes in processing meat from small farms in the Northeast.
The localvore movement has been very good for business at Vermont Packinghouse, and the company has seen explosive growth since it opened three years ago.
Back then, co-owner Arion Thiboumery says, he had 10 employees and he processed six animals that first week.
Fifty-five people work at Vermont Packinghouse now. On a recent afternoon almost 90 hogs were killed.
Thiboumery has been expanding and shifting equipment around the space since he opened.
The new Act 250 permit will allow him to expand the building's footprint and put in a state-of-the-art carcass cooler which he says will allow him to double the number of animals that Vermont Packinghouse processes.
"We really see so much potential for growth," Thiboumery says. "We continue to see new customers come in. We continue to see existing customers growing. We're actually worried if we can keep up. So we're trying to stay ahead of that curve with this investment, but I'm also still worried that this isn't big enough."
Mark Curran co-founded Black River Produce, a wholesale distributor, almost 40 years ago, and he's been a major player in connecting local farmers with the growing market beyond Vermont's borders.
Curran says the expansion at Vermont Packinghouse is happening at just the right time.
The expanded capacity, Curran adds, means more local farmers will be able to raise more animals and get them to markets across the Northeast.
"We tried selling local meat 10 years ago and people just didn't want to pay the premium price," says Curran. "But now there's a new generation of millennials and Gen Xers, and they're really concerned about where their food comes from. They want to know where the farm was, and how the people were treated that work on the farm, and there's a huge market for that."
Thiboumery opened Vermont Packinghouse as a company that kills animals with dignity and respect, and he says he wants the process to be as transparent as possible.
He built windows that look out onto the killing floor and he says he gives tours every week. Some of the guests embrace the concept of slaughtering animals for food, he says. Others are opposed.
When the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited the company for inhumane treatment of cows and pigs, animal rights groups from around the country pounced on the news, and the citations were widely reported.
Thiboumery took the hits. He says a few animals were improperly stunned and he attributes the problems, partly, to the rapid growth he's been trying to keep up with.
He says when a slaughterhouse says there's a good way to kill animals, there's bound to be controversy.
"If your philosophical belief is that killing animals under any circumstance is absolutely wrong, and should not happen, then anybody who says that it can be done well, and it's fine is kind of going to be an anathema to your way of thinking," he says. "If there's no such thing as any good slaughterhouse anywhere, then a slaughterhouse saying they are doing a good job is like, 'Oh no. We better go after those guys.'"
Thiboumery says he sees no slowdown in growth. The farmers that supply the meat processed by Vermont Packinghouse are looking to raise more animals, and consumers are seeking out more and more products that are raised sustainably, on small farms.
He hopes construction for the new carcass cooler will be completed before the end of the year.