Paradise Locker Meats puts heritage pigs at the center of local butchery's future.

Paradise Locker Meats puts heritage pigs at the center of local butchery's future 

Paradise Locker Meats puts heritage pigs at the center of local butchery's future.

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Fantasma chose to rebuild in a new location, in the neighboring town of Trimble, on what was then five acres of cornfields. He kept the name, a gesture to let the community know that he would continue to work with area ranchers and farmers. A crumbling concrete block from the original slaughterhouse in Paradise is embedded in the concrete walk immediately before the front door of the new, siding-clad building, which sits just off U.S. Highway 169.

One of the first calls that Fantasma took at the new facility was from Doug Metzger, a hog farmer near Seneca, Kansas, who was working with a new mail-order company called Heritage Foods USA. The business was specializing in heritage breeds and was looking for a processing plant that was USDA-inspected.

Paradise Locker had begun as a custom-exempt shop, meaning that it broke down animals for an owner, not for resale. But in fall 2004, Fantasma switched the business from a state-inspected facility to one that's federally inspected. The change allowed Paradise to ship across state lines and process out-of-state animals.

For its first Heritage order, Paradise Locker packed 10 hogs, split in half, into crates with ice. Over the next two years, this standing order for 10 hogs grew to 60 hogs a week. Paradise stopped breaking down whole deer — though the company still processes meat for hunters and Share the Harvest (a program that gives deer meat to shelters and food pantries) — to focus on the hog business with Heritage.

Fantasma is mulling over an expansion that could increase the slaughterhouse's capacity to 200 hogs a week. The demand for heritage pork, echoing the nation's oversized appetite for all things pig, continues to outstrip his supply.

"I wish we could get more," says Sam Edwards III, the third-generation cure master from Virginia. "I'm always looking for better-quality pork and operations that are as clean and efficient as this [Paradise]."

Alex Pope hears the same thing from customers at his East Bottoms butcher shop, Local Pig. He's familiar with Paradise from his days as the chef at R Bar. "I see a ton of potential," he says. "People have been waiting for an easy way to find sustainable meat. It has to be simple enough that it's an extra five or 10 minutes, as opposed to driving to a farm and picking up a side of beef."

Connecting consumers with sustainable meat — livestock raised humanely, by farmers attempting to keep a small ecological footprint — was the original idea behind Ag Local. The startup, which raised $1.5 million in seed capital last summer, has since shifted its focus to attracting name-brand chefs to its software, which connects them with farmers. The system debuted with 20 high-profile chefs in New York City this month; another 20 in San Francisco are coming in April.

"I can't believe that one of the oldest industries in our country is the last to have software fully integrated," says Robert Roderick, Ag Local's head of product and marketing.

Roderick says Ag Local's inventory-management system can help eliminate some of the uncertainty that stifles growth in the sustainable-meat market. Niche operations such as Paradise Locker can attract buyers willing to pay for a higher level of quality. "The way of the future is jumping into sustainable pay now," Roderick says. "That's how we change the way meat is bought and sold."

It's an old idea wrapped in new butcher paper‚ a fair price for a carefully raised piece of meat. It's how your grandparents' corner butcher operated.

"Butchering is a lost art," says the Farmhouse's Michael Foust, who stopped by Paradise on a recent morning to pick up some caul fat and shoulder bacon. "But I see what these guys are doing and I get excited. We need to build a community where each piece is strong by itself."

Paradise Locker has become a place where chefs and farmers learn about each other's needs and look to a shared future. "We started out as a butcher," Teresa says. "And now we've grown into a lifelong process and food movement."

"Nobody in the meat business is going to get super-wealthy," Edwards III says after the Paradise Locker tour. "But we all have to work together to find the solution."

Martins says the solution looks a lot like Paradise. "If this was on either coast, they'd be the most celebrated shop in the country, with lifetime achievement awards," he says. "Instead, they just go to work, and people have no idea what they have in their backyards. One day, we'll look at Trimble the way we looked at Berkeley, California, for organic produce."

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