Nearly 200 farmers, processors, butchers, chefs, retailers and other meat enthusiasts gathered at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord, N.H., on March 22 for the inaugural "Meat Ball" at the New England Meat Conference. During a special presentation, three awards recognized a producer, a processor and a food professional for excellence in their respective fields. The awardees were as follows:
Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross presented the New England Food Professional of the Year award to Cole Ward, meat cutter/educator of Morrisville, Vt. Ward has been working with meat since he started in his godfather's meat market at 14, making 24 cents an hour for stuffing sausage. Since then, he's been involved in nearly every aspect of the meat industry, from running the meat departments in country stores and large supermarkets, to developing recipes, mastering the art of sausage making, inventing new marinades and ultimately becoming a gourmet butcher. Above all, he is dedicated to teaching the craft of meat cutting, and has shared his knowledge and skills with hundreds of farmers, chefs, butchers and meat enthusiasts.
Pat McNiff, owner and operator of Pat's Pastured, presented the New England Producer of the Year award to Heather and Don Minto, managers of Watson Farm in Jamestown, R.I. The Mintos have been the farm managers at Watson Farm since 1980, raising and selling grass-fed beef and lamb and helping to restore the grassland of the farm. They have been instrumental in setting up the local slaughtering facilities for Rhode Island farmers, and have been strong champions for decades in buying local and preserving the state's rich agricultural heritage. They are true leaders in Rhode Island agriculture, and were the first inductees into the Rhode Island agricultural hall of fame.
New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill presented the New England Processor of the Year award to Beverly Mundell, owner of Adams Farm Slaughterhouse, Athol, Mass. She has managed Adams Farm for 58 years, providing vital services to livestock farmers throughout New England. Upon the untimely and unexpected death of her husband in 1973, Mundell, at the age of 36, took over management of the farm and slaughterhouse. In an industry historically dominated by men, she became responsible for buying livestock, dealing with equipment salesmen, working with USDA FSIS, and all aspects of running a small business. After a 2006 fire, Mundell led the process of rebuilding a new facility that was triple the size of their old building, making it one of the largest in New England. Two of her five children, Noreen and Rick, decided to work full-time at the slaughterhouse; and in keeping with family tradition, this multigenerational business now boasts three of Mundell's grandchildren in positions of responsibility: Sydney, Chelsea and Melissa.
The awards presentation was followed by a keynote address by master butcher Kari Underly, inventor of the flat iron steak and author of "The Art of Beef Cutting." Dinner was a celebration of local meat, featuring pork donated by Pat's Pastured in Rhode Island and beef from Vermont Family Farms, as well as a variety of other products from the region's food and drink producers. A live performance from bluegrass/Americana string band the Hickory Horned Devils kept attendees dancing into the evening.
The Meat Ball was held as part of the inaugural New England Meat Conference, which brought producers, processors and other meat professionals together for two days of networking, education and celebration. The goal of the conference was to enhance the production, processing and marketing of sustainable, nutritious, humanely raised and delicious meat from New England farms.
This event was organized by a steering committee representing meat producers, processors and service providers from across New England. Conference presentations and additional information are available at www.NewEnglandMeatConference.org