New NEK Meat Processor Speeds Local Farmers' Goods To Market

Aug 26, 2014

There’s a new meat processing plant in St. Johnsbury, and that’s making it easier for livestock farmers in the Northeast Kingdom to get their goods to market. Northeast Kingdom Processing is owned by a beef rancher from Derby, and managed by an experienced meat cutter named Edmund Lessard.

“My father had been in the meat business his entire life,” Lessard said before leading a tour of the facility. “So I was always nagging around slaughterhouses and processing rooms. He never wanted me to get into this business, but it’s just in my blood. I worked local in the St. Johnsbury house for years. Then it moved to another location. Then I came here,” Lessard said.

Northeast Kingdom Processing slaughters, smokes and packages meats in St. Johnsbury. There is also a retail store.
Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR

After the processing is over for the day, Lessard shows off freshly scrubbed rooms with brand new stainless steel equipment. 

Each morning, cattle, pigs, goats and sheep are led off cattle trailers into the back of a metal barn through a fenced-in maze towards what Lessard calls a kill chute.

“So this door would go open and this door would go open and the beef would come right down through here. And once they come in there’s no coming back,” Lessard said, walking into the processing room.

That’s where pigs, goats, and sheep are quickly electrocuted. Each cow is killed away from other animals with a special gun called a bolt stunner.

Two weeks after it opened, the facility was cited for improper use of the gun, but is now back in business. And business, Lessard said, is good.

"It obviously benefits local producers. They don't have to drive nearly as far." - Dave Snedeker, Northeastern Vermont Development Association director

“There’s a very big demand, when you need beef killed and processed, you need it done in a reasonable amount of time. And we would like to try to get it done as quickly as we can for the customer, reasonably,” Lessard said.

There are other rooms for smoking meat, making sausage and packing. Because this is a federally licensed facility, a USDA inspector makes frequent site visits.

Customers include not only commercial farmers but also residents who raise just one or two animals for their own freezers.

At a retail store in the front of the building, Morgan Oeschger, daughter of owner Scott Oeschger, handles the cash register.

Production Manager Edmund Lessard holds meat sold in retail store at Northeast Kingdom Processing in St. Johnsbury Industrial Park.
Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR

“Now my dad has this, so I’ll never have to worry about eating meat from a supermarket again. I love that it’s local, we know where it’s coming from, and then you can share that with other people. I love when I see mothers come in with other kids. You can see they’re feeding them right. It’s good for us,” Morgan said.

The director of the Northeastern Vermont Development Association, Dave Snedeker, says this slaughterhouse is also good for the local food economy, as demand for local beef grows.

“It obviously benefits local producers. They don’t have to drive nearly as far," Snedeker noted. "It cuts down on transportation impacts and things like that."

And with lower transportation costs and a fast track from farm to table, this store can charge competitive prices for fresh, hard-to-find cuts like short ribs and flatiron steaks.