Baker Farms adds processing plant

Steve Baker, of Mt. Jackson, looks over a rack of smoked hams that he has in his walk-in freezer of his new hog processing plant. Rich Cooley/Daily

MOUNT JACKSON – With a long history in producing pork, hog farmer and Shenandoah County Supervisor Steve Baker recently added a processing facility to Baker Farms.

In the past, Baker had coordinated with a processor a few miles away to prepare his products for distribution. He said this new addition streamlines his business – but also meant a lot of learning and adapting on his part.

“This is all a new endeavor to me,” he said. “We had to get meat inspection involved, of course you’ve got your zoning, you’ve got your building department … there’s a whole lot of agencies that was involved with this project. It was very intense.”

The industry has changed over the many years he’s been farming and since he first started Baker Inc. in 1996. He said he’d no longer be in business if he solely relied on selling the livestock – he needed to sell the finished product. Planning for the facility’s needs and designing it was a process that he said took around four years.

“Building a house and putting a house together is one thing, but a meat facility? It was challenging, which would be an understatement,” he said.

The new facility has brought Baker a new workload of bookkeeping for records and regulations. Baker’s hired home butchers from the area for the facility and said they’ve been learning on the job as well.

He said Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was instrumental in helping him with the planning of the facility. Baker Farms’ open house and ribbon cutting on Nov. 18 had comments from the department’s Commissioner Sandra Adams and Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Cassidy Rasnick.

“They’re very supportive of local agriculture being able to put value added onto the products, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said. “It means a whole lot to the local economy.”

Baker Farms ships out a variety of different pork products that are now butchered, smoked and packaged on site. One of the most popular products has been sausage, and Baker said he’s offered a diverse array of everything from breakfast links to bratwurst.

Baker said the facility processes around eight to 10 hogs from Monday through Wednesday. Whereas there used to be around 150 producing sows on his farms around 20 years ago, that number has since dwindled down to around 90. He said any expansion of his business would first have to come from a larger farm, but for now he’s keeping production at a “comfortable level.”

Although he said some of his products stay within Shenandoah County and the surrounding area, much of his business has been with farmer’s markets, restaurants and other customers further east in areas like Fairfax and Manassas.

With the value of farm-to-table agriculture taking root in the area, Baker said it’s a common trend to see self-termed “small mom and pop” operations start up their own processing.

“There’s a lot of stories like us that are up and down the valley, across the state, across this country … just small people taking this next step,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to continue to farm and make a living, and that’s all that matters there.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com