Watauga Butchery Visionaries Redefine What Local Means
The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual ribbon cutting for the Watauga Butchery on July 8th, 2020, serving as both a commemorative multi-generational moment, but also a landmark event for local farmers in the High Country.
The Watauga Butchery, headed by Shipley Farms, has been collaborative effort involving Cole’s Meat Processing, the NC Cooperative Extension, and other local farmers, was established in response to the bottlenecking in meat processing farmers are experiencing due to facility closures from COVID19. In a recent article by the Watauga Democrat, it is said the area farmers are experiencing interruptions in operations due to meat processors being backed up until July 2021. The butchery will open during a critical time for area beef farmers and will preserve High Country sustainability by supplying our restaurants, retailers, and wholesalers with quality meat.
“We are fortunate to have visionaries that have run into the same problems now working towards solving those issues.” said Eddy Labus, Extension Agent in Agriculture for the Watauga County Cooperative Extension.
Jim Hamilton, the Watauga County Cooperative Extension Director, spoke on the unorthodox nature of small scale meat processing facilities in today’s times, joking that 70 years ago the grand opening of a butchery would have not received the same fanfare as it does today. Watauga Butchery recognizes the intimate connection between our local farm systems and the community and Hamilton describes the relationship to make our local food system more sustainable as “impressive to see.”
Boone native and Shipley Farms owner, Bob Shipley told the story of the past and the vision for the future as he described the generations that built the foundation that the Watauga Butchery will now stand upon. The property was first constructed for meat processing in 1976 by Franklin Cole, who ran Cole’s Meat Processing before his son Kenny took over. Kenny Cole described the partnership with Bob and Shipley Farms as “one of the greatest opportunities we have ever had.”
Pieces of family tradition do not stop with the Cole’s. Shipley Farms is a product of three generations, including both Bob Shipley’s father and son. The rustic meat cleaver in the Watauga Butchery logo involves a fourth generation, being drawn by Bob’s granddaughter, Sally Risk.
The time of reflection also included reference to the NC Cooperative Extension Agricultural and Educational services.
“The foundation of agriculture in North Carolina and the High Country are entwined with a very, very healthy educational resource system through our agricultural extension,” said Shipley. “Taking knowledge from the university and bringing it into application is a link we are rich with in North Carolina.”
The tour of the Watauga Butchery outlined the steps in processing that occurs before food is on the table. The butchery, being a smaller operation with manageable volume, allows for the beef to be dry aged, resulting in a more tender and flavorful end product. Kenny Cole and his skilled meat processing staff will be in charge on the dissecting before packaging, all of which done one on one with surgeon’s precision. Meat will be vacuumed sealed with brand new equipment, and then neatly frozen in crates to allow local farmers to manage distribution to clients.
Shipley explains the butchery as a service provider, reiterating they do not take ownership of the meat. Clients (the local farmers) will work with the Watauga Butchery and then distribute for retail or wholesale.
"If there is a silver lining to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that people have a deeper appreciation for what local means,” said David Jackson, President/CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “The reality of the last few months is that supply chains can be easily interrupted, meaning neighbors are in a better position to help neighbors. Agriculture has always been a driving force within the Watauga County Economy. A facility like this will only help provide faster access to market for local farmers. This also provides local residents more opportunity to support the local effort that is keeping fresh food in our community, people working, and local businesses stocked with quality products from our own backyard.”
After the tour, the ribbon was cut by an antique meat cleaver like the one drawn in the Watauga Butchery logo. Bob Shipley and Kenny Cole stood side by side during the cutting, symbolizing a partnership much deeper than we can imagine. Franklin Cole held one end of the ribbon while Eddy Labus held the other, signifying the relationship between of the traditional aspects of farming and future education that will long serve as the foundations to the success of the butchery.
The Watauga Butchery, birthed from the tidal wave of COVID19, received its final USDA inspection on Friday, July 10th with carcasses arriving from harvesting partners on Thursday, July 16th. The USDA confirms that the Watauga Butchery will serve as the only public processing plant in the mountain area. All partners envision sending quality, mountain food all across the country, further supporting our local beef farmers. Pondering on the road ahead, Bob Shipley asks “What if? What if out of all this some things change? What if local becomes the new norm? We are standing here today because of other people who built the foundation.”