By Brianna Gwirtz, OCJ field reporter
It’s been a little over two years since news stories were full of photos of empty grocery stores. The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic brought a flurry of panic buying, especially apparent in the meat case (and the toilet paper aisle). Labor issues at national packing plants caused major supply chain disruptions that are still being felt today.
Ohio meat processors also saw a surge in their businesses as consumers turned to local sources for protein, and livestock producers looked for new avenues to market their products. However, the pandemic merely exacerbated a longer-term issue with limited livestock processing capacity within Ohio.
For several years, agricultural groups had been advocating for the need to improve and expand local meat and poultry processing. In 2021, Governor Mike DeWine announced the new creation of the Ohio Meat Processing Grant Program. The state’s 2022-2023 budget allotted funds for the program in House Bill 110. The grants, valued up to $250,000 each, were given to qualified processors through a first-come, first-serve application process. Applicants had to detail how they would utilize the grant. The state provided a list of approved expenses, such as buying new or upgraded equipment or technologies, plant construction or expansion, staff training, or certification costs.
The grant recipients were announced on Feb. 16, 2022. In total, 40 livestock and poultry processors from across the state received a grant, totaling around $10 million in funds for improvements.
For Kevin Turk, vice president of Turk Brothers Custom Meats in Ashland, the funds couldn’t have come at a better of time. His plant needed upgrades to keep up with the increased demand his business has seen.
“This grant is truly a Godsend for our business,” Turk said. “We are going to be able to make some very necessary improvements to our facility.”
The company has been in business at its current location since 1973. Turk’s father, Roy, and uncle, Chuck, started the business.
“My dad and uncle started the business as part-time work in 1961. They learned about meat processing from their grandfather, who was a meat cutter,” Turk said. “They realized there was enough business that they could turn it into a full-time job, so they purchased this plant years later and we’ve operated here ever since.”
Turk returned to the family business after graduating from the Ohio State University in 1999. He has always enjoyed the industry and working alongside his Dad.
“Dad is now 82 and he’s semi-retired, but he likes to help out almost every day,” Turk said.
“We primarily focus on custom processing for local farmers. We process cattle, hogs, sheep, buffalo, elk, and wild game. We also have a small retail and wholesale market.”
Turk plans to expand his facility with the grant so he can double his freezer capacity. He is also looking into adding a rollstock packaging machine to increase efficiency.
“Getting that extra freezer storage will allow us to produce more product. The rollstock machine then will save us time in packaging,” Turk said. “I was surprised but overall very thankful to have gotten the email saying I was a recipient of a grant. We hope to continue to serve the farming community around us well into the future, and this grant will help us accomplish that.”
Pinhook Meats in Lucas is also a recipient of the new grant. The meat processing facility and retail storefront are owned by JJ and Amanda Trumpower.
The meat business has been a lifetime journey for JJ Trumpower. His very first job was in the meat department at a former grocery store, which happens to now be the current site of his business. Most everything he learned about cutting, grinding, and packaging proteins came from that first job.
In 2008, while working for a construction company, Trumpower began processing not-for-sale wild game for hunters at their family’s farm in Pinhook, an unincorporated area outside of Lucas. His part-time meat business was picking up.
“I realized there was enough demand that I could do this full time and needed somewhere other than just a garage space. The former grocery store came up for sale in 2016, so we bought it and renovated it into what it is today,” Trumpower said.
While whitetail deer processing was originally what Pinhook Meats was widely known for, Trumpower’s business processes beef, hogs, and chickens as well. He also smokes in-house sausages, beef sticks, and other meats.
“When COVID hit, our retail business doubled. Our custom processing business also doubled. We had to decide to back off of the deer processing. We were processing up to 1,500 deer that year, and when you’re getting slammed in all directions, something has to give a little,” Trumpower said. “The community support has been incredible. We’ve got a great customer base.”
Pinhook Meats relies on a local abattoir to harvest the livestock, and then they further process the carcasses for customers into individual cuts and smoked products. The retail store, before 2020, used to sell around half a side of beef a week. Today the store can sell one, to one-and-a-half steers a week. To keep up with the increased demand Trumpower doubled his number of employees.
“Receiving the grant will help us with our efficiency. I’m planning to purchase a rollstock machine. It will be nice to be able to utilize my employees’ time in other aspects of the business besides packaging,” Trumpower said.
Trumpower also plans to purchase an additional smokehouse to increase his smoked meat production.
“Our smoked products are very popular items for us,” he said.
Processors receive half the amount before the start of the projects. They will be reimbursed for the other half of the award money once they provide proof that the initial funds were spent on eligible costs.
The grant program is administered through the Ohio Department of Development in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. More than 140 businesses applied to the grant program.
“As a business owner, you have to take advantage of what’s available to you,” Trumpower said. “These are advancements I was planning to make eventually, but this grant will speed up that process. They’re significant investments for us so it’s great to get the support.”
These situations are precisely what the grant program was designed to address.
“The supply chain issues that our country is facing have put increased pressure on our meat processors, and they can’t keep up with the demand,” said Governor DeWine. “By awarding this money, we can help these Ohio businesses enhance their operations to strengthen the local meat supply chain and reduce reliance on out-of-state processors.”
In total, the businesses receiving awards have estimated that the funds will help them create up to 830 jobs.
“These grants will not only benefit consumers, but they will also help sustain these businesses and bring new job opportunities to Ohioans,” said Lt. Governor Husted. “In addition to new jobs, this funding will help businesses retain 300 jobs and nearly $30 million in payroll.”
The DeWine-Husted Administration prioritized the creation of the Ohio Meat Processing Grant Program in the state’s 2022-2023 operating budget, which was passed by the Ohio General Assembly last year. Grant funding will be used to implement processing efficiencies, expand or construct facilities at existing sites, assist in training and certification, and improve harvest services.
“The interest in this program shows that this industry is ready to improve its processes and increase its efficiency,” said Lydia Mihalik, Ohio Department of Development Director. “We are prepared to get these funds into the hands of operators quickly so that they can begin to implement their plans.”
The full list of the Ohio Meat Processing Grant Program recipients can be found at https://governor.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/governor/media/news-and-media/Governor-DeWine-Awards-10-Million+-to-Strengthen-Food-Supply-Chain-in-Ohio-02162022.