Cornucopia’s Take: The primary barrier to finding local organic meat in the market is the lack of local certified organic processing plants. This family plans to open a processing plant to bring their organic meat, and that of surrounding farmers, to market.

Kleins advance with processing plant plans
by Lisa Young

ELGIN, Minn. — For about 14 years, Eric and Lisa Klein have been at the forefront of the local food scene, selling their Hidden Stream Farm meat everywhere from the Rochester Farmers Market to high-end Twin Cities restaurants.

In May, the couple, who farm with their children outside Elgin, will venture into new territory with the opening of their own processing plant.

The to-be-named plant will be located in a building under renovation in Dover. 

The 12-mile farm-to-plant journey will be a lot shorter and definitely more centralized than the occasional multi-town round trips the Kleins make often as their operation has grown.

“There’s not any one processing plant with the capacity to do what we need,” Lisa said. “At one point, we were going to three different processing plants.”

The idea to have a plant of their own cropped up four or five years ago, Eric said. With few places for certified organic meat processing in the area, a growing need exists for more. 

The idea gained traction after the Kleins met a man who designs processing plants. Over time, funding came together through the Small Business Association’s 504 program, loans and private investment.

The Kleins found the right spot in a building that was unused in Dover. They are  in the process of renovating the building to fit their needs with general contractor KBS of Plainview and Rochester. They are glad to give an existing building a new life and to have the advantage of having water, sewer and power already in place.

The finished plant will be U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected and organic certified. It will be approximately 8,500 square feet and include a space for on-site retail along with slaughter, processing and storage areas and a loading dock. It will be able to handle up to 21 beef cattle and 40 pigs and will also be used for lambs and goats.

Hidden Stream Farm is set to be the plant’s best customer.

Plant capacity will represent an opportunity for growth for Hidden Stream Farm. Via other vendors, they slaughter 20 pigs, three to four cattle and six to 10 lambs a week during their slow time. 

Once it’s operational, the plant will be open to anyone looking for a slaughter slot. Customers could include fellow direct marketers or someone who wants just one animal custom processed. 

The plant will include processing tools the Kleins haven’t used before, which they hope will open additional doors for them. Among other things, they will  make snack sticks. They will also have tools that ensure product consistency. Breakfast links will meet exact weight specifications.

“We’re excited to know the quality will be maintained at the level that we want,” Lisa said.

The Kleins hope precision gets them in the door of more food cooperatives around the state and maybe even beyond.

“The market for local food is still growing,” Eric said. “This will give us the opportunity to branch into markets asking for good, consistent product.”

Learning about packaging, choosing a logo and navigating the building revamp have occupied their time left after animal chores. The learning curve is steep, but they are approaching it with patience, Eric said.

The Kleins may do some co-packing for other direct marketers at the plant if there is demand for it, particularly of more specialty items like brats or snack sticks.

The processing plant, a separate entity from Hidden Stream Farm, will run five days a week. The Kleins have hired on long-time butcher Geoff Hart, a Dover native, as their plant manager. Hart is starting on regulatory paperwork.

 Eventually, the business will employ about five people full time. Ideas for the retail area are still developing, but the Kleins anticipate offering other local goods beyond Hidden Stream Farm meats.

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