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Fresh Start in Pine River is new USDA processor

The Fresh Start Meat Market in Pine River is now USDA certified. The U.S. Department of Agriculture certification means the meat market is approved to process animals to be sold in stores or dining establishments. Now, customers to the market hav...

Mary and Mike Styx, owners of Fresh Start Meat Market in Pine River, stand in front of a rack of fresh brats made from a customer’s pork. Under USDA approval, that customer will now sell these brats under the Patchwork Farms brand name. Photo by Travis Grimler
Mary and Mike Styx, owners of Fresh Start Meat Market in Pine River, stand in front of a rack of fresh brats made from a customer’s pork. Under USDA approval, that customer will now sell these brats under the Patchwork Farms brand name. Photo by Travis Grimler

The Fresh Start Meat Market in Pine River is now USDA certified.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture certification means the meat market is approved to process animals to be sold in stores or dining establishments. Now, customers to the market have the option of bringing products to owners Mike and Mary Styx with the purpose of selling the end product.

"The USDA, which is stricter than the state and has more opportunities, protects the consumer," Mike said. "That's what we can bring to the table. It allows us to help smaller people get out there. For us, it's another avenue for product and making a business."

Fresh Start won't sell the products, but instead will sell the slaughtering and processing service. The customer brings in live animals, under inspection by a USDA inspector looking for health, cleanliness, sanitation of equipment and humane handling.

"That's one shot, one kill; that's the basis," Mike said. "They watch us do the full slaughter all the way to checking glands and organs to make sure the animal is safe for human consumption."

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The animal is then butchered and processed, packaged, labeled with the animal owner's label and a sticker with Fresh Start's establishment number (45584) and then taken by the customer to be sold or used as they wish.

The process is done completely under observation by a USDA inspector. The establishment number allows tracking of products in case of recalls. It gives the Styxes and their business accountability, and gives the customer assurances.

"What it does for the USDA and customers is it allows them and assures them they have a good quality animal and a good quality product being taken care of locally," Mike said. "People that buy the product know the farmer, they can know where it's processed and packaged and they know that it's being inspected by USDA guidelines."

So far there have been several customers for Fresh Start's weekly Tuesday slaughter days, including Patchwork Farms in Nisswa. Fresh Start has helped owner Gayle Stevens to make sausages, pork steaks and brats.

"They basically do any cut I want to have done," Stevens said. "I sell a lot of brats. Our wild rice and mushroom is my biggest seller."

Stevens' product is sold at Ideal Green Market, the Northwoods Inn restaurant in Ossippee Corners, and an Aitkin establishment. Before Fresh Start received its certification, Stevens' product had to be processed at a state-certified facility over an hour away.

"I really like it," Stevens said. "They are very easy to work with. They've been trying to do some things. ... Since I raise pasture pork I want my processing done naturally. They've been working with me to get the bacon cured naturally and using natural, organic spices and staying away from preservatives and chemicals in my pork. I'm really glad there is someone in northern Minnesota."

Fresh Start has processed approximately 15 hogs for Stevens alone since becoming certified April 15.

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"It's their meat," Mike said. "We don't buy meat. We aren't a broker. We aren't a middle man. When someone says, 'their' meat, who better to sell it than them?"

"They know the most about how they raise their animals," Mary said.

They are hoping to integrate themselves and the local farmers into local food supplies.

"We're focusing on our retail and trying to get ourselves into some stores," Mike said. "We work with the Pequot athletics association already. We work with the Pine River American Legion to just get more of our product out to the consumer so we are not relying on foot traffic to the building. Four months out of the year it's great. The other eight months it's not. We're trying to build an out-of-the-box customer base. That's long term. We would probably look at turning the whole facility into a USDA facility and potentially move the market to a more foot traffic friendly location."

Mike and Mary dream of a time when the local community will come together to help create a publicly supported facility for USDA meat production.

"With community support, there's an opportunity for people to look at how a community can build their own USDA facility," Mike said. "Mary and I can't build it to handle that type of operation. There are communities that have actually gone out and created cooperatives to help do this, but it brings a lot of decent paying jobs to the community. Mostly your slaughtering communities will start between $15 and $18 an hour. For an area like this, if we did 150-200 head a day, you have staffing, trucking companies, packaging companies. What spins off is phenomenal. It's not just about having meat hit the case. It's about being able to bring jobs to the community."

In addition to financial benefits of having a large scale processing plant, Mike and Mary look forward to reducing the time from farm to plate.

"(We can do) 48 hours from hoof to table," Mike said. "It's good. People like that. You know your product isn't bouncing from truck to truck or state to state."

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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