Fueled by consumer fears of meat getting scarce and costly on grocery store shelves, local meat providers are finding themselves extra busy during the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 outbreaks have resulted in some of the nation’s largest meat processing plants slowing or suspending operations temporarily, some for cleaning and others due to the large number of workers out sick. The Tyson Foods Inc. fresh plant in Wilkesboro ceased operations on May 9 and 11 for cleaning and fogging.

The resulting reduced production has caused a shortage of staple meat products at grocery store chains. Shoppers buying excessive amounts of meat and stockpiling it is another contributing factor.

A growing number of consumers are turning to locally-owned farms and butcher shops for help addressing their food needs.

Apple Brandy Prime Cuts

Seth Church, owner of Apple Brandy Prime Cuts in North Wilkesboro and a fourth-generation cattleman, said Thursday that retail orders at his shops have been “huge.” He added, “We can’t say enough about the community support we have received. Our customers have been so understanding and patient as we try to fill their orders.”

Church said he fulfilled over 100 curbside orders on May 9 alone. “Our team has really put in the extra effort and hours to try and get everyone meat for their families. They’ve also went the extra effort to ensure everyone’s safety, wearing masks and providing curbside service for customers.”

He said his custom processing business for meat handlers and individuals wanting their own livestock processed has “exploded.” Church said he has beef appointments booked all the way into the middle of 2021.

Apple Brandy Prime Cuts was formed in 2019 when Church acquired Thomas Brothers Meat Processing and consolidated it with his business, Apple Brandy Beef.

Jim’s Quality Meats

Jean Cleary, owner of Jim’s Quality Meats off D Street, North Wilkesboro, said recently that she has seen a considerable increase in sales due to people stocking up on meats.

“We’ve worked longer hours over the same three days a week (Thursday-Saturday),” said Cleary. “I see that continuing as long as we’re not shorted our products (by wholesalers). People will continue to stock up because they’re afraid now through the media that there will be a shortage. There probably will be shortages, and that scares them.”

Cleary said most customers are staying conscious of social-distancing guidelines established by state and local officials. She posted a sign on her storefront that prohibits no more than five people in the store at a time.

“Believe it or not, people are getting used to not piling in on top of you,” she laughed. The store also offers curbside service and delivery to cars in its parking lot.

Cleary estimated that her average order is $100 to $150. “People don’t mind paying that in a time of need,” she added.

Cleary’s butcher shop doesn’t rely on local beef providers. Cleary said her two main sources of western-fed beef are an in-state supplier and a wholesaler in Virginia, both from whom she’s bought for years.

Moffitt-Toolan

A relative newcomer to the local meat scene, Moffitt-Toolan is a small family-run farm off Kendell Town Road in Ferguson, co-owned by Alan Moffitt and Michael Toolan.

Moffitt-Toolan has offered beef and pork products since 2017. What started as deliveries to the nearby Leatherwood Mountains Resort and a stand at the Wilkes County Farmers Market in North Wilkesboro later expanded to participation in the Stardust Cellars Drive-Through Food Hub on Curtis Bridge Road in Wilkesboro during the pandemic.

Moffitt said last week, “We have been staying very busy here. Our business has really been going strong. We have gained so many new customers the last couple of months and we are very thankful for that.”

He said the farm is in the process of expanding its beef and pork selections. “It will take awhile, but all of our customers have been very understanding. We are a small farm and it is hard for us to keep up right now” with consumer demand.

Moffitt said the Stardust hub helped the farm gain many new customers.

“I am very thankful that people are utilizing that outlet. I am hoping that after everything opens back up and people return to their normal lives, they remember buying local is a lot better. They are not only supporting their local businesses and community, they know where their food is coming from.”

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