On the chopping block

Wolf Pack Meats

Wolf Pack Meats manager Mike Holcomb talks about the organization’s future at the Cooperative Extension office in Carson City.

Wolf Pack Meats manager Mike Holcomb talks about the organization’s future at the Cooperative Extension office in Carson City.

Photo By ashley hennefer

For more information about Wolf Pack Meats, visit http://www.ag.unr.edu/WPM/Welcome.aspx

The production of local food is beneficial for the health of humans and the planet—

but it also keeps money cycling within the local economy. With the future of Wolf Pack Meats at stake, more than just carnivorous consumers will be hurt if it closes.

A meeting on Oct. 10 regarded options for keeping WPM in business. Several years of financial hardship have put the company—which is subsidized by the University of Nevada, Reno, and supported through the patronage of regional farms and ranches—on the extensive list of organizations to be cut. It is the only meat company in Northern Nevada that offers both USDA-approved slaughtering and processing.

“It’s a huge industry,” says Ann Louhela, director of NevadaGrown. “Locally grown meat is rebuilding entire local food economies.”

If the packed room at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office in Carson City was any indication, people aren’t ready to let WPM go without a fight. With a closure date of June 2012 looming, two plans of action were discussed: increasing the educational value of WPM, or alternative ventures like a non-profit or cooperative status.

WPM formally was part of the meats program at UNR, but it was cut nearly a decade ago.

“As of now, they don’t have any tie to coursework,” said Jane Tors, director of media relations at UNR. “The university isn’t in the position to subsidize them.”

So far in 2011, WPM’s net loss hovers around $78,000, compared to $138,116 in 2010. Their revenues, which skyrocketed in 2009, have since been declining. This could be attributed to a number of factors, including access to product and an increase in operations expenses.

Reinstating classes would give the facility a larger role in the university, but that option doesn’t seem likely.

“For an academic program, there will need to be a science element and there would need to be a budget allocated,” Tors said. “But we’re not seeing a demand from students for a meats program.”

Animals and materials provided by WPM are often used by students in the community for science and anatomy courses.

“I feel that there is a huge educational need for Wolf Pack Meats,” said Mike Holcomb, facility manager of WPM. “High schools, elementary schools, REMSA, all come to us for resources.”

Restaurants and businesses are also at risk. The Great Basin Brewing Company, Albaugh Ranch and the Great Basin Food Co-op, among others, all rely on the quality and low cost of WPM’s services.

“They depend on the close access to Wolf Pack Meats. It’s more than just consumers affected,” Louhela said. “We’re talking about restaurants, we’re talking about stores. It’s an industry, and we need to realize that.”

Community support could help WPM stay afloat. Forming a cooperative with other farmers and ranchers would allow the company to be financially independent from the university.

“The university would be in support of that,” said Tors. “Closure would be an absolute last resort.”

Creative solutions may save the company, and the financial and health benefits of a local food market remain constant.

“With us gone, it’s going to leave a big hole in the community,” Holcomb said.