EcoFriendly Foods: Slaughterhouse Success Story
By Jennifer Merritt | Lancaster Farming
MONETA, Va. — Even the people who were pulling for Bev Eggleston didn’t really think he’d make it.
“They thought we were too early and took too big of a bite,” said Eggleston founder of EcoFriendly Foods in Moneta, Va.
Eggleston, along with his wife Janelle, owns the small multi-species abattoir featured in Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Pollan’s book and Eggleston’s own dynamic personality have brought him notoriety. He has been featured in Gourmet Magazine, the Village Voice, and even the Wall Street Journal. His pork is served in some of the finest restaurants in New York City, and Eggleston himself has become something of a celebrity with foodies. His celebrity status would surprise his neighbors in Moneta, a town so small it doesn’t even have a Main Street. In fact most of them drive by EcoFriendly Foods without even realizing what it is. Eggleston, however, is finally close to something much more important to him than any article or interview, both of which he receives constant requests for.
At the end of a photo shoot for New York society magazine Page Six, Eggleston stayed to have some extra photos taken. Eggleston’s wife Janelle, who he says knows him better than anyone, was coaching him. “Bev, how is it going to feel when you make it?” she asked as the photographer snapped away. When Eggleston looks at the photo, a picture of him in a butcher’s apron holding a slab of the rich fatty pork he’s known for and wearing a suckling pig over his shoulders, he remembers exactly what it felt like. Today, he’s closer than he’s ever been to realizing that dream.
“We have come within spitting distance of making a profit,” said Eggleston.
For someone who has been in business for eight years that might not seem like a lofty goal, but for Eggleston it’s huge. He may be a rock star with foodies, but rock stars of meat don’t make the same money regular rock stars do.
Eggleston is a protégé of Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm. Salatin and Eggleston were selling “beyond organic” pasture-raised meat at farmers markets and demand was growing. The lack of small processing plants made it difficult for farmers to get the grass-fed meat that the consumers wanted to market. Eggleston decided to start his own and he and his wife found the property in Moneta. Originally the building served as a slaughterhouse and then became a cut and wrap plant for Kroger before finally sitting empty. Eggleston bought it and remodeled it to confirm to strict USDA standards, mortgaging his family farm and sinking $2 million of capitol into the project.
Almost as soon as EcoFriendly Foods was ready to open, the USDA pulled their inspector shutting the operation down. EcoFriendly Foods sat empty and unused for almost a year while Eggleston tried to navigate the labyrinth of USDA regulations and hurdles and service the huge debt. Eventually he found his way through the maze and the plant opened. Today, they process beef, pork, goats, lambs, veal, suckling pigs, turkeys, and chicken in the multi-species plant.
“Every animal that comes in here leaves the same week except the beef,” said Eggleston.
The plant includes a cutting room, a harvest room, a separate poultry processing area and coolers. There is also a small retail outlet on site. Eggleston used to handle killing the animals himself. Employees do the job now but there is a heart-shaped hole on the holding pen to remind everyone that they “intend to do a wholesome respectful sacrifice.”
After the meat is harvested and packaged, it is sold under the Emerald Family Farms label. Eggleston sells his meat and poultry at the Arlington, Va. farmers’ market, the Dupont Circle FreshFarm market and to chefs in Manhattan and Washington, D.C. Every week Eggleston loads the refrigerated truck to deliver to major metropolitan regions.
“We’re definitely blessed or we wouldn’t have made it this far,” said Eggleston.
Now that he has come this far, however, he’s looking to expand. There are currently 12 people working for EcoFriendly Foods including office manager Donna Santone who keeps Eggleston on track and fields nonstop phone calls. Eggleston says he needs 22 employees to increase the capacity of the plant to where it needs to be to continue to grow and be profitable. Before that can happen it will require an additional capitol expenditure to expand the existing facilities.
EcoFriendly Foods is not the only thing Eggleston wants to see growing.
“What we need are lots of farmers making lots of money to grow lots of food,” said Eggleston.
Eggleston also thinks the “world has missed it.”
“Undeveloped productive farmland has more value than any development,” said Eggleston. “Farmland is more important than Wall Street. We can still exist without a strong dollar.”
Strip malls don’t turn back into places to grow vegetables. Both producers and consumers benefit from investments in local agriculture.
“This affects every congressional district because everyone eats,” said Eggleston.