From WASHINGTON POST
When Kathryn Thomas wanted to turn her sheep into lamb chops, the federal government required her to haul them across Puget Sound on a ferry and then drive three hours to reach a suitable slaughterhouse.
Not anymore. These days, the slaughterhouse — and the feds — come to her.
A 53-foot tractor-trailer rattles up to her farm on Lopez Island, the rear doors open and the sheep are led inside, where the butcher and federal meat inspector are waiting. When the job is done, the team heads out to the next farm.
The slaughtermobile — a stainless steel industrial facility on wheels — is catching on across the country, filling a desperate need in a burgeoning movement to bring people closer to their food. It is also perhaps one of the most visible symbols of a subtle transformation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, long criticized for promoting big agribusiness.
Under the Obama administration and the 2008 farm bill passed by Congress, the USDA is shifting attention to small and mid-size farms, encouraging organic and sustainable agriculture, and investing in projects to bring locally grown meat and produce to consumers.
“There is unbelievable consumer interest in local agriculture that we haven’t seen in decades,” said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. She is overseeing the agency’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program, designed to revive the processing, marketing and distribution networks that once made small farming viable but disintegrated in the last 30 years as U.S. agriculture went through a dramatic consolidation.