Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Savoonga herders use new knowledge to sell meat

Following a reindeer meat production course taught in Savoonga, St. Lawrence Island, in March, the locals took their new knowledge to the field by conducting a commercial field slaughter, then processing the meat and selling it to an Anchorage vendor.

Greg Finstad, left, and Bob Gerlach teach a reindeer meat production course in Savoonga.

University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research Program Manager Greg Finstad thought the actions of workshop participants were awesome. In Savoonga just about the only natural resource available is the community-owned, free-ranging reindeer herd.

When Savoonga was declared a disaster area a few years ago due to ice conditions limiting harvest of marine animals, the government shipped in food. Finstad said community members realized they needed to develop their reindeer production, shifting from a subsistence focus to a source of income.

“It’s a poor community and they want jobs,” Finstad said. “They are taking a local resource and creating jobs.”

Reindeer have been in the area since the early 1900s, and there an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 animals there today.

The 20-plus people who attended the meat course harvested 16 animals, cutting the carcasses into quarters and flying the meat to Mike’s Quality Meats in Anchorage for retail sale.

The meat production course is offered through the University of Alaska Fairbanks Northwest Campus’s High Latitude Range Management program. Teaching with Finstad were Dr. Bob Gerlach, the state veterinarian, and Cherie Lowry, a DEC meat inspector.

They used the USDA-certified mobile meat slaughterhouse during the course. “We’re working with the community to develop an operating plan for the slaughter plant to get them state certified,”
Finstad said. “We’re going to help them write grant proposals to buy a mobile unit if this is the way they want to go.”

He is thrilled at the community’s enthusiasm. “They are getting their feet wet,” he said. “So far it looks really promising. They are very determined to make it work. They will need a more intensive reindeer management strategy to complement commercial meat production and they know it is going to require more work. This is an amazing group of people working together to make this happen.”

Taking useful knowledge to the state's citizens is part of UAF's land grant mission, Finstad said.

Further reading:

Mobile reindeer processing unit deployed to western Alaska, UAF News and Events, By Ned Rozell, Oct. 16, 2009

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