5/12/2012 10:00 AM
By Ayleen Stellhorn Southcentral Pa. Correspondent
REISTERSTOWN, Md. — Maryland poultry producers are pooling their resources to make meat from locally raised chickens and turkeys more widely available in Maryland.
Members of the newly forming Central Maryland Poultry Producers Group (CMPPG) will work within the state guidelines for safe food handling and have access to a staffed state-of-the-art poultry processing center in Reisterstown.
“Years ago we would have been called a co-op,” said Tom Reynolds, owner of Farmer Tom’s, a 100-plus-acre farm that produces vegetables and poultry, operates a popular farm stand near the center of town, and houses the poultry processing center. “Today we’re calling ourselves a producers’ group to reflect the level of sophistication we can offer.”
According to Ginger Myers, a regional marketing specialist with the University of Maryland Extension, members of the CMPPG are essentially renting the facility and its staff to process the chickens and turkeys that they raise on their individual farms.
“Your birds, your feed — their processing — your end product,” she said.
Under Maryland’s current poultry processing laws, any poultry producer can bring birds to Farmer Tom’s facility to be processed, but the meat can only be consumed by the original producer, Myers said.
However, by requiring members of the CMPPG to complete the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Poultry Processing License training, receive their individual licenses, and contract to use Reynolds’ staff and equipment, Myers said the group can offer its members something more: the ability to sell meat processed at the facility within Maryland’s state boundaries.
Licensing ensures that a variety of standards are met during the entire production process.
“After completing the licensing and requirements, the meat you have processed here can be sold at farmers markets, to restaurants, to other buyers within Maryland,” Myers said.
Reynolds started processing turkeys in 1990 in a one-room “tabletop” operation that he ran for only a handful of hours during the week before Thanksgiving. He processed a total of 200 turkeys that first year.
As demand for locally produced turkey and eventually chicken grew, Reynolds built the 2,600-square-foot poultry processing center on the ground level of his bank barn in 2008 with investment help from two other area producers, Steve Weber of Weber’s Cider Mill Farms in Parkville and Tom Albright of Albright Farms in Baltimore County.
The three men have formed a partnership that has allowed them to purchase $200,000 in state-of-the-art stainless-steel equipment, including machinery for a receiving room and an eviscerating room.
They process 350 birds an hour (up to the 20,000 per license per year limit placed on producers by federal and state law) and hire a staff of 27 to man the facility.
Requring CMPPG members to obtaining processing licenses will also allow the facility to handle the increased volume of birds, since the 20,000 limit will apply to each individual license.
Plans are also in place to add bagging machinery and a new 2,400-square-foot cooler and freezer building to the site by Thanksgiving, Reynolds said.
According to Myers, it’s the expense of the equipment that keeps many chicken and turkey farmers from being able to move into producing poultry for outside buyers.
“This new group will help poultry producers access equipment and knowledgeable operators that may previously have been beyond their ability for financial reasons, space restrictions or other factors,” Myers said.
The three men also have a broad base of industry knowledge that they are looking to share with other producers.
“That’s the whole reason we started this project,” Reynolds said. “Poultry was coming into our state from who knows where when we have quality producers right here,” he said. “We want that stamp to show that our products truly are local.”
Annual membership in the CMPPG is $25. The rates to contract with Reynolds’ processing facility have yet to be established, but they will be lower than those charged to nonmembers.
The next meeting of the CMPPG will be held June 27 at Albright Farms, 15630 Old York Road, Monkton, Md. For more information, contact Myers at the University of Maryland Extension, 301-432-2767, extension 338. Or visit www.cmdppg.com.