Walter Jeffries recalls April 28, 2008, as the day that changed everything. That was when his St. Johnsbury butcher told him he was retiring. The owner of Sugar Mountain Farm in West Topsham had always imagined building his own butchering facility on his farm one day, but that announcement “sped up our plans,” says Jeffries.
After close to four years of planning, he hopes to open his butcher shop in January. It will be the first single-farm slaughterhouse and meat-processing facility in the state. Once the basic building is complete, Sugar Mountain will add a smokehouse and sausage-making room to produce its hot dogs — a staple at the Chubby Muffin in Burlington.
Jeffries, who has been bringing his pigs to Massachusetts for slaughter, estimates he’ll cut his farm’s carbon footprint nearly in half by eliminating 23,000 miles of driving per year. Thanks to a superinsulated slab foundation and stacked storage rooms, the cold Vermont air will be able to cool Jeffries’ refrigerators naturally for approximately half the year, he speculates — another major money saver.
Jeffries says 90 percent of his sales are to restaurants, including Hen of the Wood at the Grist Mill, Michael’s on the Hill and A Single Pebble, and to stores such as Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier. The rest of his 250 pigs go to CSA members. There is no plan for on-farm retail. With the addition of his butcher shop, Jeffries hopes to have the time to reestablish sheep in his fields. “Eventually, we’ll do goats and cattle, too,” he adds.
One small step for Jeffries, one giant leap for Vermont meat.