Small processor connects local producers with buyers
Smaciarz helps growers get premium prices, answers consumers' questions
By STEVE BROWN
ROCHESTER, Wash. -- What was once a school bus barn is now a thriving meat shop, a conduit for Western Washington farmers and ranchers to feed the growing demand for locally produced meat.
"I know how to be the voice of the grower, a matchmaker," said Tracy Smaciarz, owner of Heritage Meats in Rochester, Wash. "I've been able to learn what chefs want. I understand what the farmer is up against."
Smaciarz works with farmers and ranchers from Oregon to Snoqualmie, Wash., processing 30 to 35 head of beef and 20 hogs in an average week, specializing in sustainably grown and organic meat.
"I'm the only one doing this in Western Washington," he said. Cutting for retail, wholesale and custom-exempt customers, Smaciarz keeps his USDA and his custom-exempt operations physically separate, with separate coolers, cutting rooms, packaging rooms and freezers.
Custom-exempt processing, for the animal producers' own use, includes smokers for bacon, sausage and pepperoni.
In addition to beef, pork and lamb, Heritage Meats also processes goat, ostrich, emu and yak. "If you've seen yak on the menu over at Cousin's Restaurant (in nearby Centralia), that came from me."
Not only does Smaciarz provide meat. With as many as 14 employees, he has added jobs to the area.
"I've trained all those guys out there. Some had experience; some didn't," he said. "As a small kid, I was killing cows with my dad. I was the first cleanup kid, slicing bacon, stuffing sausage."
His father started the business in East Olympia in the mid-1970s. The younger Smaciarz took over in 1997 at the age of 27, and he moved the business and diversified.
"Big companies created opportunities for small shops by eliminating meat cutters from grocery stores," he said. "People wanted to buy local meat."
That was a niche he was eager to fill. As he got to know area farmers personally, he got a feel for the grass-roots side of the industry.
"I know who raises nice cattle," he said. "I know where they're coming from, so I can answer the restaurants' questions. People want to know. So I take the mystery out of meat processing."
That presents opportunities for him and producers.
"If a restaurant wants Wagyu beef or a specific breed of pig, I know where to go," he said. "I helped a farmer get his beef into the Olympia school district. I asked them what do you want and how do you want it. I help facilitate those kinds of sales."
Helping producers work more closely with customers gives them more value for their product. "If not me, they go to sale barns, the Chehalis auction or Craigslist. The choice is commodity prices there or premium prices from local restaurants."
Heritage Meats: www.heritagemeatswa.com