For 35 years, the Heart of Florida Farms has been breeding champions.
Tucked away down the back roads of Alachua, Florida, is where the 78-year-old breeder, Clint Robinson, of champion cub calves, resides.
Robinson took over Heart of Florida Farms when he moved from Gainesville to Alachua in 1985. Robinson makes his living by breeding steers and heifers and entering them into annual cub calf auctions, yet he also sells his own natural beef from the calves he raises at his farm.
Recently, Robinson has been struggling with getting his beef processed in a timely manner due to the wait times at processing facilities and their far proximity. Local producers can wait up to eight months before even getting their meat processed.
Yet, these waits could come to an end for Robinson and other farmers in Alachua County. On April 4, the Alachua County Commission voted 4-1 to move forward with the building of a Meat Processing Facility in Newberry, a project that started back in June 2021.
“I can’t get my cattle processed in a timely manner right now, so I have to go out of the county and the costs are mind boggling,” Robinson said.
The plans for the county to build and own this meat processing facility stemmed from concerns about the nationwide supply chain issues that occurred since the beginning of COVID-19. The facility’s goal is to provide new and expanded markets for small ranchers raising cattle, goats, sheep and hogs within 100 miles of Alachua County.
Yet, this facility is also stirring some controversy in the county among animal activists and vegans. Cody Yelton, 43, a native to Alachua County attended the county commission meeting on April 4 and voiced her strong opinions against what she referred to as a “slaughterhouse.”
“It’s absurd. We say we care about animals, but these people are being cruel to them by putting them in these facilities,” Yelton said.
Alachua County is considering plans of a partnership with the City of Newberry to build this facility. Jordan Marlowe, mayor of Newberry, said the city is willing to donate 15 acres of land to this project and they are standing behind Alachua County, which is funding the project, in hopes this will proceed.
Marlowe believes this project will benefit local farmers and ranchers to stay within the community along with citizens who are eating the meat in the county, they will know exactly who it is coming from and where it is being produced. The facility will be a place where local farmers and ranchers can bring their pasture-raised cattle to get processed when it is ready. Newberry is an agricultural community and Marlowe said this facility’s benefits are self-evident to the citizens living in the area.
“If we find a way to help these cattlemen and women to keep the cows grazing out there it would keep our land and farms,” Marlowe said.
While all farmers and ranchers have different ways to fatten up their cattle and prepare them to be processed, Robinson has an all-natural meat process he follows. Before sending cattle off to a facility to get processed Robinson feeds his animals a ranch mix that is manufactured in Lake Butler, Florida. This ranch mix contains ingredients such as grains, soybean hulls, cattle fiber pellets and different types of Vitamin A and E.
“The ranch mix I use contains 15% protein and 5% fat and 20% fiber,” said Robinson.
As plans proceed for the facility, Mark Sexton, Alachua County communication director, said the next pivotal step is to find an operator who is willing to run the facility itself. The facility will be built by the county and contracted with a private entity to operate it.
The project is estimated to cost $5.25 million in local, state and federal funds in order to construct and will be processing approximately 15 animals a day.
“There will be rules on how the plant will be operated and the county will want assurances that it will be beneficial to both the farmers and ranchers in the community,” Sexton said.
Since the operation of the facility will require extensive wastewater management, it will be built alongside the 104-acre piece of land that is home to Newberry’s Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility. Sexton said that the existing plant can handle the waste that will be produced from the facility. Yet, before Alachua County can agree to a land agreement with Newberry, a Phase II site assessment must be completed in order to make sure residents will not be harmed from the waste from the facility.
Although many farmers and ranchers are excited for this project, not everyone in the community is thrilled. Steve Patterson, owner of Suki’s Vegan, a restaurant in Haile Plantation, said building this facility is the worst thing that could happen.
Patterson said that the building of this facility is nowhere in line with his morals and suggests that people should try to turn to a plant-based lifestyle rather than eating this meat.
“It destroys the environment around and pools of fecal will have to be processed,” Patterson said regarding the facility.
Additionally, more than 50 individuals lined up to speak against the building of this facility that will be so close to their homes and held signs up in front of the county commission’s office at the county meeting earlier this month. Wes Hucker, 43, who lives a vegan lifestyle, was among one of these individuals speaking against the project. Hucker emphasized that these “slaughterhouses” are the reason why people are being exploited in poorer and rural communities and the ground around is being saturated with the feces from these animals.
“This is only going to cause a backlash. It does so in every county they decide to put these slaughterhouses in and in these communities that are intentionally targeting citizens that are not their own, citizens that are second-class,” Hucker said.
But Marlowe makes it clear that this facility will not distribute waste through the community. The 10,000-square-foot facility will lie in the middle of a 15-acre lot that will allow for buffering with the trees covering the ground. The facility will be completely indoors and not emanating an odor to outside.
Additionally, the facility will support the economic activity throughout Alachua County’s economy and the State of Florida. Cynthia Court, director of UF/IFAS’ Economic Impact Analysis Program, believes that around 53-80 new jobs will come out of the creation of this facility. These jobs will require certain skill sets and will be full-time with benefits.
“Locally provided education and training will help fill jobs with individuals from within the county,” Court said.
While the project continues to move forward, Alachua County and the City of Newberry will continue to have check-ins regarding the progress. If things move accordingly the facility plans to be complete and begin operations in December 2026.
Local farmers such as Robinson hope the project moves forward because of the life-changing opportunity it will provide to them along with the community getting local meat.
This would save on transportation costs along with getting cuts on their meat sooner rather than later.
“There is a lot of added value right now from here to the plate, with this facility the people eating the meat and the farmer get a better deal,” Robinson said.