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Hog plant wouldn't be first processor

December 04, 1998

Chicken processorby DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: DAVE McMILLION




CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A local hog farmer's proposal to build a processing plant to cut his own meat is not the first time the idea has been tried in Jefferson County.

Two trout farms and a chicken farm have received approval for processing facilities - but the success has been mixed.

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When the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Appeals allowed Susan DeFelice to slaughter and cut her own free range chickens, they initially limited it to a year and said she could process only 1,000 chickens.

DeFelice said she needs to be able to process more than 1,000 chickens a year to be successful.

DeFelice said the county seems to be contradictory in its thinking about agriculture. While DeFelice's operation was limited, a new comprehensive plan adopted by the county suggests more latitude be given to farms to allow them to process their own products.

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"Who knows if we will be able to continue. We're feeling things out," said DeFelice, who runs the Old Friends Farm along Flowing Springs Road seven miles north of Charles Town.

Shannon Donley, who has 1,200 hogs on a farm near Shepherdstown, wants to build a processing plant to cut and package his own meat, but the proposal has sparked opposition.

Some residents in the Moler's Cross Roads area where Donley lives worry about odor from the plant and about waste from the operation reaching ground water supplies.

Donley said a septic system equipped with a grease pit to catch fat from meat washing operations will collect all water used in processing. Also, a state Department of Agriculture inspector will monitor construction of the plant to make sure it meets all regulations, said Donley.

Donley said the operation would produce no more odor than a butcher shop in a supermarket.

Craig Yohn, Jefferson County's extension agent, wrote a letter to the Jefferson County Planning Commission encouraging the county to support Donley's proposal.

Yohn said he has long suggested that farmers open their own processing plants to improve their incomes.

Donley said he wants to process his own meat to eliminate middleman costs and to stabilize his cash flow. Nationally, swine prices are at the lowest level in 27 years, and some economists are predicting that one-fifth of the country's hog farmers will be out of business by next year, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Darlene Truman, a member of the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Appeals, said allowing meat processing plants in agriculture zones is a new concept for the county. That is one of the reasons restrictions were placed on DeFelice's chicken farm, Truman said.

"We wanted to be cautious in this situation," said Truman.

DeFelice raises chickens and cattle that are fed only natural food. Her free-range chickens are moved to different locations in a field during the summer to feed on grasses and bugs.

Her chickens are not given antibiotics or growth hormones, and she said her slaughtering methods are cleaner than large industry operations.

DeFelice said she has had "overwhelming" response to her poultry, selling it weekly from her farm.

The Federal Hill trout farm just north of Charles Town and the Aqua Green Trout Farm off W.Va. 51 west of Charles Town received permission to set up processing centers to cut and wrap their own trout.

Bill Grantham, owner of Aqua Green Trout Farm, said processing his own fish has helped make his operation more profitable.

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