Budding Organic/Specialty Meat Processor Shutdown in Conflict with Former Farming Town (Now Madison, WI Bedroom Community)

July 24th, 2014

Family-Scale Farmers, Consumers and Retailers Impacted Across State

The Sauk Prairie Eagle
by Rob Schultz

black earth meatsA dispute between Black Earth Meats and village of Black Earth officials that appears destined for a courtroom has forced the popular organic meat processing facility to close, its owner said Tuesday.

Black Earth Meats expects to close by the end of July after it lost its loan with the Bank of New Glarus following the Village Board’s decision last month to pursue legal action to stop the company’s operations at its present site rather than work with it to find a new facility site, owner Bartlett Durand said.

“This is a tragedy,” Durand said he told his employees.

The board made its decision after the growing company outlined four possible options to move the slaughter facility out of town as ordered by the board last December, Durand said. The facility had been labeled a public nuisance.

“We came with four plans to discuss with them and they just said they would prefer litigation,” Durand added. “I told them if they did that we’d lose the note and they did it anyway, and we lost the note.”

Durand and Black Earth Meats Market, LLC, filed a suit against the village and its officers on July 2, seeking $5.3 million in damages from what it said were improper allegations that led to loss of revenue as well as an improper proposal to take the property without just compensation.

Durand said 22 employees will lose jobs and many others will be affected by the company’s closing. “I’m crying right now because I just finished talking with my employees. I’m struggling a little bit,” he added.

Black Earth Meats is the only small organic meat processing facility in the state, and it created a niche with its focus on local grassfed and organic meats and humane handling of animals. It became so popular that it opened a retail butcher shop in Madison called the Conscious Carnivore. Durand said the shop, located on University Avenue, will remain open.

In a statement he read to his employees, Durand said the closing also “affects over 100 restaurants, retailers, and farmer’s market purveyors. … It affects the thousands of customers who rely on us for good meat. And it affects the development of a local food infrastructure and small-scale processing.”

But Village President Patrick Troge said in May that Black Earth Meats had grown too big for its facility and it was disrupting village services and creating problems for neighbors, including a school. An overflow of animal waste and byproducts created problems at the wastewater treatment plant that serves Black Earth and other communities , Troge said. Also, neighbors complained about odors, garbage and truck traffic on residential streets, he added.

Last December, the Village Board told Black Earth Meats that it had 120 days to present the board with a plan to move its slaughter operation outside the village or face litigation. In April, the company asked for an extension after they both agreed to hire an economic development group to find potential options , Durand said.

Economic Development Partners, of Verona, was then hired with a $4,000 partnership grant from Alliant Energy, and its proposals were presented to the board, Durand said. The company asked the board to reaffirm its right to conduct slaughter on the premises to avoid losing its loan. “Instead, the village passed a motion directing its attorney to pursue legal action against the company to stop all nuisance activities,” Durand said.

Village board member Patrick Frey declined to comment Tuesday. No other village officials, could be reached for comment.

Durand said he told his employees: “I am devastated that seven years of work building up a local meats infrastructure is destroyed with this unthinkable act by the Village Board.”

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