‘Butcher Revival’ Begins Here
T&E Recruits Grad To Serve As Apprentice
Posted: January 31, 2013
Alyssa Elliott (center), selected for an apprenticeship at T&E Meats, enjoys a laugh at a press conference on Wednesday with (left to right) Teresa Salatin and her husband Joel, co-owner of T&E; Brydie Ragan, T&E business manager; and company co-owner Joe Cloud. Elliott will be the first recruit in a state-approved apprenticeship program to train meat industry professionals. (Photos by Holly Marcus / Special to the DN-R)
Joel Salatin — farmer, local food advocate and co-owner of T&E Meats — says the nation has “marginalized our best and brightest” from entering “heritage trades.”
Matt Lohr, Virginia commissioner of agriculture, addresses the press conference unveiling the new apprenticeship program being offered at T&E Meats.
Joe Cloud, co-owner of T&E Meats, is optimistic about his industry: “We’re seeing the start of a butcher revival.”
Alyssa Elliott is front and center at a press conference at Eastern Mennonite University on Thursday after being selected for an apprenticeship at T&E Meats. Behind her are T&E co-owner Joe Cloud (left) and Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Matt Lohr. “It’s fun to be coming in on the ground floor,” Elliott said of her unique position.
Enter Alyssa Elliott.
Like most recent college graduates, the 23-year-old Elliott was just looking for work.
At first Brydie Ragan, business manager for T&E Meats, which slaughters and processes local red meat at its Charles Street facility, told Elliott that she wasn’t hiring.
But upon looking at her résumé, Ragan said, “I think you need to see [co-owner] Joe Cloud before you leave.”
“We did hire her within the next couple of weeks,” Ragan added.
Little did Elliott know that three months later, she’d be revolutionizing her field with a single signature on the dotted line.
On Wednesday evening, she was surrounded by Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Matt Lohr, nationally renowned local food movement advocate and Augusta County farmer Joel Salatin and dozens of others as she officially became the T&E’s first apprentice.
“You’re a pioneer,” Ragan told Elliott, a Broadway High School graduate, after she signed.
Elliott, who graduated from Virginia Tech in May with a bachelor’s degree in animal and poultry sciences, is believed to be the naton’s first worker in a meat professional apprenticeship program that leads to a journeyman’s card. Just like an electrician or plumber would, she will come out of the program with a journeyman’s card from the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.
The state is supporting the program through words and actions: A grant from the labor department will cover 60 percent of Elliott’s salary for the first 26 weeks of her training.
As for the apprentice herself, she’ll essentially receive a free education, Ragan says.
Although the curriculum is designed as a three-year program, apprentices such as Elliott can receive credit for related experience.
As an apprentice, she will learn every aspect of the local meat processing industry, including slaughtering, curing and smoking, inventory control and packaging and shipping.
“It’s fun to be coming in on the ground floor,” Elliott said.
Her metaphor works threefold: she’s on the ground floor of a relatively new business in a unique program within a budding industry.
T&E Meats — owned by Salatin and Cloud, who bought the city staple from a retiring couple about four years ago — started the apprenticeship program because it couldn’t find enough skilled workers to fill an increasing need.
When the team bought the plant, it boasted 19 employees, 12 of whom were older than 70.
“This was symptomatic of agriculture at large,” Salatin said, noting that the average American farmer is now 60 years old. “This is something that’s happening … in all the trades. … We have marginalized our best and brightest from entering those heritage trades.”
But in the face of a lack of skilled meat professionals, T&E Meats is booming.
“We’ve grown the business tremendously; it’s just grown leaps and bounds,” Cloud said.
In terms of pounds of meat processed, the company has grown roughly 25 percent annually during the last four years. The facility processed nearly 1 million pounds of meat last year alone.
Once a staple of any community, the local butcher shop almost became a dinosaur amid competition from huge companies.
In a nation where the top four meatpackers control roughly 85 percent of the market, Cloud said, local slaughterhouses make up a small but burgeoning market.
“We’re seeing the start of butcher revival,” he said.
Just as more people want their fruits and vegetables grown in better soil closer to home, a growing number of customers want to know their meat is grown and slaughtered nearby, and by someone who cares about its quality.
“In an information-dense post-industrial age, people want food that is crafted not just using material that is of dubious quality,” Salatin said. “The whole food chain needs to be artisanal in order for it to be artisanal at the end.”
T&E Meats owners aren’t sure when they’ll hire their next apprentice, but it could be before the end of the year.
For more information on the company, visit www.temeats.com .
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or firstname.lastname@example.org