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'Save Black Earth Meats' $225K Kickstarter aims to reclaim the slaughterhouse

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Black Earth Meats Kickstarter

Black Earth Meats has launched a Kickstarter to save some of its slaughterhouse operating equipment, which the bank will repossess otherwise.

The clock is ticking for Black Earth Meats.

By the end of November, The Bank of New Glarus is going to start selling off equipment and property to recover $1.1 million left on its loan.

In response, the business, which closed in July, has taken to Kickstarter. Bartlett Durand, founder of the organic butcher, lays out the vision for "Black Earth Meats 2.0" in a video attached to a $225,000 crowd-funding campaign that started on Monday.

If the company can buy back its slaughtering equipment before the bank goes to auction, the business can move its meat hooks, packaging machine, breaking saw and stuffer to another location, probably somewhere in Mount Horeb, Middleton or Racine.

"This is the moment," Durand said. "Are we willing as a community to step forward and support this? If we are, this could really start a process of rebuilding our local food infrastructure through community financing."

If not, organic/sustainable slaughter in Wisconsin could be set back for years, he said. The Kickstarter ends on Dec. 4, but Durand said he'll know by Thanksgiving whether it will work or not.

Black Earth Meats began its expansion of an existing butcher shop in the small town west of Madison in 2008. As the frequency and quantity of slaughtering operations grew, disputes with nearby homeowners did as well.

On Oct. 10, Dane County Circuit Court judge William Hanrahan dismissed a series of 10 citations issued by the Village of Black Earth over a year and a half, citing Wisconsin's Right to Farm law.

The lawsuit that remains outstanding is the one filed by Black Earth Meats in federal court for $5.3 million. Durand holds out hope that the business and the village can settle on a number that covers his property loss before the end of November.

"Right now I feel very positive," he said. "If we can make everybody whole right now, get us back to zero, we can move on."

As a meat processor, Black Earth Meats was one of the few in the country that was USDA-inspected, certified organic and Animal Welfare Approved (for humane treatment of animals).

And while many were sympathetic to locals' insistence that the business move noisy slaughterhouse operations away from a residential area, just as many, if not more, were dismayed at the loss of the "zen butcher," which supplied sustainable meat to restaurants, groceries and direct to consumers through Conscious Carnivore, its Madison retail outlet.

"If this was just a business failure, there's no way I'd ask the community for support," Durand said. "That's totally inappropriate. That's why you have investors and bank financing. That's one thing. This is not that. Clearly, this was something way outside my control."

Rewards to Kickstarter backers reflect the range of support Black Earth Meats has already gathered. In addition to T-shirts, postcards, sausages and a master class at the Conscious Carnivore, there are prizes from the seasonal florist Farm to Vase and Capital Brewery in Middleton.

"It's more than people I supply, it's people who understand the importance of the local food infrastructure," Durand said. "Whether they're our direct customer or not, they understand the role we played."

For a $10 pledge, Ian's Pizza will give you a free slice of pie. The Great Dane Pub and Brewing Co., which uses Black Earth beef for its Sustain-a-Burger, will give pledgers at the $45 a burger and a brew.

At the $200 level, chef/owner Luke Zahm at Driftless Cafe will prepare dinner for two at his restaurant.

A sweet and savory pie-making class for nine hosted by Chef Molly Maciejewski at Madison Sourdough has already been snapped up at the $1,000 level.

For a donor pledging $3,000, Muramoto, chef/owner of Restaurant Muramoto, Sushi Muramoto and 43 North, has committed to serving a five course meal for eight at a donor's home or 43 North.

And the prizes are still coming in. Durand says 10 other chefs from the Madison Area Chefs Network are interested in doing the same thing.

If the Kickstarter is successful, Black Earth Meats' 2.0's end goal is to create a commissary that will sustain a series of Conscious Carnivore butcher shops in towns all over Wisconsin. Those could be crowd-funded too, by individual communities.

"The number one thing we need to do is salvage that equipment, " Durand said. "It's worth so much more (keeping it) in house, operating, than it is selling it off.

The Kickstarter, would "alleviate the debt from the old company and get the new company off to a start. You get to help two companies at once," he added. 

"If it fails, we're going to be set back years. That's the scary part."

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