Finger Lakes Meat Project: Bringing Back the Meat Locker

Author: Kathryn Quanbeck, Program Manager, Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network

Publish Date: Winter 2016

The Finger Lakes Meat Project (FLMP) is a regional initiative in New York State to grow the freezer trade (sales of meat in bulk quantities such as whole, half, and quarter animals) to benefit livestock farmers and consumers. The Project, led by Cornell Cooperative Extension, consists of educational efforts, an online directory of farms called The Meat Suite, and two community freezers in Central NY called The Meat Locker.

The Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network, based at OSU in the Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems, recently hosted a webinar about the project, featuring Matt LeRoux of Cornell Cooperative Extension. Matt told us how the FLMP got started and described its value to local farms.

The initial inspiration for the FLMP was a survey of regional producers and consumers. Consumers were asked if they bought local meat (why or why not) and if they bought in bulk (quarters, halves, and wholes). Producers were asked if they sold meat in bulk. If yes, what would they need to sell more, and if no, why not?

Consumers cited two primary barriers to buying local meat:

  • High price: Local meat is more expensive;
  • Hard to find, limited availability: Local meat is not convenient.

Producers cited two primary barriers to more bulk sales:

  • Customer knowledge: customers don’t know/don’t understand the cuts they will get when they buy in bulk, they don’t know how to cook all of the cuts, and so on;
  • Access to processing: access to USDA-inspected processing – required for by-the-cut sales but not bulk sales – is limited.

Both producers and consumers reported that customers often found it challenging to store meat purchased in bulk. They also had trouble “finding each other”: consumers had trouble finding local farms to buy from, and producers were struggling to find new customers.

These survey results led to the formation of the Finger Lakes Meat Project. The goals of the FLMP are to educate consumers about buying local meats, help producers and consumers find one another, alleviate storage issues for consumers, and assist producers with marketing and sales. The project has four components:

1. Consumer educational events
2. An online directory of farms,
3. Rentable freezer space for consumers, the Meat Lockers
4. Marketing training & price calculation assistance for farmers

It’s important to note that producers selling in bulk are selling whole or shares of live animals, before slaughter. This type of sale allows for the use of custom-exempt processing facilities: producers do not have to use USDA-inspected processing facilities if the end consumer owns the live animal (or a portion thereof)

For more on custom-exempt and bulk sales in Oregon, read this FAQ about using custom-exempt slaughter and processing facilities in Oregon. This is beneficial to producers and consumers as there are far more custom-exempt than USDA-inspected processing facilities, both here and around the U.S.

The beauty of the freezer trade is that it is the best market channel for both small-scale producers and individual consumers: producers sell the entire carcass at a premium (no managing inventory or dealing with unloved cuts), and consumers get the best price per pound, often even lower than grocery store prices.

The meat locker component of the FLMP has been very popular. The meat locker is great for those who don’t have room for a chest freezer or can’t afford one, allowing apartment dwellers, college students and others who might not typically be bulk buyers to participate in the freezer trade.

The Ithaca, NY locker location has been open for a year and a half and already all spaces are rented out. The locker is a 10x14 walk-in freezer with space for 65 bins (two bin sizes are available: 18 & 25 gal.). Spaces rent for $3 to $8/month. The locker is open by appointment for drop-off: all meat is inventoried and checked in by staff. The locker is also open three hours a week for meat pick-up. Again, staff inventory and check out the meat. Only staff can enter the locker, and when it is not manned the locker is locked and alarmed.

A project like the FLMP could be of great benefit to producers and consumers here in Oregon. If you are interested in learning more about how you can start a project like this in your region, Contact Us. We’ll help you get started.

New to NMPAN? NMPAN is a network and info hub for people and organizations who want small meat processors to thrive. We offer tools and information for small processors and the farmers, marketers, and meat buyers who depend on them. Learn more about NMPAN and join our listserv at


Join us for our next NMPAN webinar, “Plant in a Box: A Solution for USDA-Inspected Poultry Processing?”
When: Feb. 25 at 10am PST
More info:

“Plant in a Box” (PIB), created by David Schafer of Featherman, aims to be a turnkey answer for those looking to process chickens, turkeys, and other poultry under USDA inspection. The PIB unit is built into a recycled shipping container and comes ready to go: the operator only needs to provide a site pad, water, power, and a plan for effluent. On this webinar, we’ll hear from John Smith of Maple Wind Farm in Vermont, the first farm in the country to own and operate a PIB. Smith will tell us how they got started,
successes, challenges, and surprises along the way, and plans for the future.