North East Backers, Energy, Tours & Surveys
This June and July we've been fulfilling Kickstarter backer packages for people who live outside Vermont but are able to meet us either along our delivery route in Vermont or here at the farm. We contacted people in NH, ME, MA, RI, CT, NY and NJ for this round of fulfillment but if you are coming to Vermont and in another state feel free to email me at email@example.com and we can fulfill your package.
It's been great meeting people and showing them the butcher shop. I'm, of course, very into the engineering, design and construction aspects but I always worry that I'll bore people with the details. However the reality is the visitors love seeing the construction, from the still rough unfinished areas like the abattoir to the polished finished zones of the building like the iCutter, bathroom and inspector's office. iCutter, incase you haven't heard that name before, is raw meat processing room where we do the butchering, making of sausage, corned pork and our new about to be released pre-spiced pork belly for homemade bacon.
One of the cool things about the butcher shop is most evident in the hot months of summer when it might be 80°F outdoors. We step into the butcher shop where it naturally hovers around 55°F but there is no air conditioning system! For decades I've been doing theoretical design work that lead to the construction techniques that make this possible without having to use any artificial cooling. The result is the butcher shop feels cool in the summer and warm in the winter - the building just works. Over the years I tested design features out on small table models, animal shelters and then our family's cottage before we built the butcher shop. In the process I've gathered megabytes of temperature and performance data that let me build mathematical models in the computer cumulating in the butcher shop's excellent performance.
The key is thermal mass, insulation and controlling the flow of heat on the giant flywheel that uses the seasons to shift the energy from summer to winter and vise-versa. The result is we also have no need to heat the building in the winter even though it gets as low as 45°F below zero. Since energy is the number two cost of processing, behind labor, this savings makes a big difference in both our carbon footprint and our pocket book. Going green saves green backs.
Then there's the pigs part of the tour. Visitors love to see the pigs, grazing out on pasture, piglets crowding around the sow, huge breeders lolling in the mud wallow and sometimes doing their breeding thing. All this set on our green pastures and verdant mountains with, usually, blue skies. Sugar Mountain is a special place to grow up and to live as commented by virtually everyone who sees the splendid mountain scenery.
Visitors also get a kick out of our dogs. We have a large six generation pack that has worked on our farm for nearly three decades. They guard our livestock, negotiate treaties with surrounding predators and as needed, enforce said treaties with capital punishment to violators who would chow down on our livestock. The dogs are loud, announcing visitors and then eager to say hello and guide people around the driveway tour of the farm.
The big three tasks related to the butcher shop that we're working on now are:
1) Installing the evaporator, mechanical refrigeration, in the cutting room which will let us drop the temperature from 55°F down to 35°F. Nine months of the year the iCutter floats at very nice refrigerator temperatures but during the warmest months it edges up a little higher. That heat we'll dump into our water storage which makes the refrigeration system run more efficiently and gives us 'free' hot water as well. This will turn our cutting room into a walk-in refrigerator.
2) Speaking of walk-in refrigerators, that is our next big construction task. Currently we're using chest freezers. These are more efficient than upright freezers used in most homes but definitely slow us down with handling product. When we built the shell of the butcher shop we built areas for a walk-in blast freezer and a walk-in cooler as well as a Brine room and a Cave for charcuterie along the north wall. Each of these rooms are nested one within the other such that the inner most room, the blast freezer, has R-120 insulation to the outdoor environment through the six nested shells of the building - think Russian dolls. Finishing off these rooms is an indoor task which we'll be doing mostly during the coming winter. The Cave will also be the home to our initial smokehouse for bacon making.
3) Our other big task is upgrading from Vermont State Inspection to USDA so we can begin shipping out of state. Back when I first met with the Vermont state head of meat inspection and then with the USDA regional director they both told me that it would be best to start at the state level inspection program, which follows the exact same rules as USDA, and then later upgrade to USDA once we had everything running smoothly. Their reasoning is that the state level inspection service is closer and better manned for helping small meat processors, a.k.a. butchers, get up and running. Ironically, once we are under USDA inspection it will be exactly the same inspectors who will inspect us, just changing their hats from Vermont state to USDA. This upgrade I hope to do once we get the evaporator installed. The state inspectors say we're otherwise ready for the step up to USDA. So this may happen between #1 and #2 above.
Surveys? Did I say surveys? Yes! On my blog I have started a series of polls about where do you buy our pork, what types of sausage do you like and there will be more to come. Click through those links or go to the Poll Archive page. There are prizes from drawings of people who fill out the polls and we already have a winner for June. I appreciate all your feedback as we gradually grow into our new britches, er, I mean butcher shop. You can always reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.