Black Earth Meats' owner still optimistic about the future
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Black Earth Meats was a certified-organic, USDA-inspected, and Animal Welfare Approved facility that purchased and processed animals from about 200 area farmers and supplied more than 100 restaurants, grocery stores, and farmers’ markets with healthier cuts of “humanely handled and hormone- and antibiotic-free meats.”
But as the slaughterhouse’s success grew, so did nuisance claims from neighbors, among other complaints. In 2013, Black Earth’s village board told the company to leave or face litigation, and that prompted the business’s creditors to pull their loans.
Meanwhile, Durand continues to sell the company’s equipment and remains “incredibly sad” for what once was — especially for the employees who lost their jobs. “We were a national model,” he said. “Now, this will cost everyone a lot of money.”
Turning a page
About two years ago, Conscious Carnivore opened in Madison as a retail establishment for Black Earth Meats’ products. Durand sold the business to his father-in-law, Gary Zimmer, and several other partners because, legally, he cannot own the store right now, but he is allowed to work in it, or on it. “I also have the right to buy in once the suit is over.”
Durand said he is “extremely confident” that Judge Crabb will rule in his favor. If he succeeds, he’ll use the money to build a new plant elsewhere and to support more community-owned butcher shops, perhaps even a community-owned Conscious Carnivore chain. “I had 18 people wanting to build the slaughterhouse, but it all takes money,” Durand said. “So when we owe money on the building and it’s still in litigation, we can’t get financing to open a new place.”
Recently, Dane County Circuit Judge William Hanrahan overturned an earlier municipal court decision that had found Black Earth Meats guilty on seven of 10 nuisance citations filed against it by the village. Hanrahan, citing Wisconsin’s Right to Farm Act, said there was no threat to public safety or health and awarded the company more than $46,000 to cover attorney fees and costs.
On a personal level, Durand admits he’s “in limbo” and juggling ideas ranging from being a meat processor to going back into law (he had a legal practice in Hawaii before moving to Wisconsin) to becoming a business consultant.
And he’s learned plenty along the way. “It is almost impossible to overcome the general apathy that has developed toward local politics [e.g., running for the village board]. People can be very upset by something and will complain, but it is extremely difficult to get anyone to do anything about it.
“That said, folks are very willing to contribute in support of a business or cause they believe in. Money is easier to share than time.”
The Village of Black Earth did not respond to our request for an interview.
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