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Black Earth Meats' owner still optimistic about the future

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Bartlett Durand has been through a lot in the past year. In July, his slaughterhouse business, Black Earth Meats, was forced to close after the Village of Black Earth deemed it a “public nuisance” and the two sides were unable to reach an agreement. Later, a Kickstarter campaign that Durand hoped would allow him to buy back his equipment failed to reach its goal of $225,000. Still, the co-owner of Black Earth Meats remains optimistic.

What the Kickstarter campaign lacked in dollars it made up for in other ways, he noted. Nearly 1,000 people felt Black Earth Meats was worth supporting. “Enough people jumped over [as investors] that we have enough money to grease the wheel a bit,” he said.

“It’s about building the community — the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, and probably the blacksmith, too.” — Bartlett Durand

He’s refocusing his efforts on developing the company’s only remaining business, the Conscious Carnivore, a butcher shop and retail outlet on University Avenue in Madison that he says helps create that sense of local community once again. “It’s all about home cooking. Come get some good meat. We’ll help you cook it, share the meal, the stories, and the farm-to-table connection.”

Durand’s enthusiasm is fueled by Wisconsin’s new crowdfunding law, which allows individual funders to buy stock in a company. “I’m a huge proponent of that because I think that’s where we can really change the game,” he said. “It’s about building the community — the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, and probably the blacksmith, too — food, bread, meat, light. That’s where everyone had to come. That’s what made up your towns.”

The crowdfunding idea has given him new hope that community-owned Conscious Carnivores could be started in multiple locations. He just needs to find communities that are willing to pony up for their own local butcher shop.

He envisions a Conscious Carnivore model allowing Wisconsin residents to purchase stock in a particular store, likely in their own community. “We can find the butchers and do all the heavy lifting, we just need the capital,” he said. Being owned by a community of individuals would mean the store couldn’t “get bought up by someone else, because it’s in the community, for the community, and everyone has reduced risk because everyone’s invested in the success of it.” Think Green Bay Packers, but with skin in the game.

“That’s my burning passion now,” he stated. “It’s very exciting.”

End of a chapter

Black Earth Meats closed after efforts to relocate or split the operation fell apart, but a $5.3 million lawsuit Durand subsequently filed against the Village of Black Earth seeking damages for lost revenues and other expenses is just getting underway. That case has been moved to U.S. District Court and is scheduled to be heard by Judge Barbara Crabb in early 2016.

Meanwhile, all that remains on Mills Street in Black Earth is a gutted shell of a business that had been in operation since the 1950s. When Durand acquired it in 2007, it was struggling and “limping to the end game,” he said, with three part-time and three full-time employees. Slaughters were being conducted about once a week.

Under the new leadership, the operation beefed up to 47 employees and slaughtered four days a week, on average.


Feb 26, 2015 04:12 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

In the 1990s we raise our own meat a small flock of lambs - the hard thing was getting them slaughtered (we ultimately gave up on poultry for that reason) We used Black Earth Meats predecessor for a while to slaughter our lambs. This is a critical piece of infrastructure for doing any sustainable raising of meat. Otherwise you are travelling a far longer distance and that is hard if you are small scales and don't want to invest in refrigeration. I can't imagine that they were more of a nuisance a few years ago that the slaughterhouse was in the early 1990's when we w used it as there was a lot coming through hat this time- this seems more like a battle between old timers and new folks who have moved in to revitalize an old business.

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