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Small Investments, Great Results

Posted by Rob Hedberg, SARE Program Director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Research and Science
Feb 21, 2017

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Working in science can be a real pleasure, especially when your research translates into a life changing experience. The following note from Arion Thiboumery, Vice President of Lorentz Meats and one of the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education’s (SARE) early Graduate Student grants, submitted a very modest proposal to establish a small-meat processors working group and publish a guide of useful resources. He accomplished that and much more. Read on...

About halfway through working on my Ph.D., I came across a recurring problem. My dissertation focused on helping small-scale meat processors expand, upgrade, and build new facilities, essential for allowing smaller, diversified farms to access meat markets and for creating more demand for meat processing.

The problem was that butchers were getting older and looking to retire and finding someone young to take over was challenging. The trade of butchering, a practice even older than agriculture itself, was fading due to a lack of job appeal among people my age (27 at the time).

With a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education grant, I developed a training program and resource guides, and helped form one of the most active stakeholder networks in livestock agriculture, now called the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network. Yet one question haunted me: How could I convince young people to take on this task of being the noble and honest butcher, when I couldn’t convince myself to do it? So I finished my Ph.D. and took a job as a meat processor.

That was not an easy decision. Going through 22 years of schooling to slaughter animals for a living might not strike folks as the best use of an education, but I disagree: As we seek to build a more sustainable future, all of us—regardless of profession—need to contribute our talents to build that future. If those of us who feel strongly about butchering don’t contribute, who will?

There’s much work to be done in many vocations. And I’m glad to have contributed to this one.

Category/Topic: Research and Science