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Lime Springs Beef LLC breaking ground on beef packing plant

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 09/04/2013 1:58 PM

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LIME SPRINGS —Lime Springs Beef is a community project, says Jesse Stevens, president of the board.

The $7 million project planned to break ground on its packing plant Aug. 27. The plant will be just south of the Lime Springs Travel Plaza.

The state-of-the-art facility, which will slaughter and process up to 80 head daily at capacity, is expected to create 50 jobs.

"This is about the community, the mayor, the city council, the area farmers, the superintendent of schools, the FFA, our legislators, the governor's office," Stevens said. "Every time we've encountered a road block an angel shows up and removes the road block. When people hear about this project, they respond by getting involved."

Stevens grew up in the Howard County town of Bonair. He held various management positions with Pella Windows before buying Pella Window distributorships in Maine and New Hampshire. He sold those in 2006, but soon found "I wasn't very good at retirement."

He started Peer Circles, which encourages small- and medium-sized business owners to be each other's board of advisors. He also started Sacred Foods, which provides a system to document how animals are raised and makes the information available to consumers.

"I found a lot of people who wanted to buy that kind of meat and a lot of farmers who were willing to raise that kind of meat if it was profitable, but there was no infrastructure in between, no way to get it done," Stevens said.

About that time, he and his wife, Pat, returned to Lime Springs. With the help of friends, he invited farmers to their home and talked about his plan in December 2011.

"I wasn't sure how receptive they would be to Sacred Foods or any of the things that I was interested in," Stevens said. "I became aware that there was almost 10 million pounds of beef represented in that room. I had been thinking of an oversized locker, but it became evident there was a business opportunity to build a packing plant for specialty beef raised within 100 miles of Lime Springs."

A primary selling point would be that the farm that raised the beef would be identified on the package.

"Consumers can scan a QR code on their smart phone and get to the web page of the farmer who raised the beef," Stevens said. "This was a marketing opportunity for the farmer, raising something distinct and doing it with other farmers."

By February 2012, Lime Springs Beef LLC was incorporated. Several subscription offerings raised $3.8 million in equity investment. A business plan was developed, and the LLC board is now working through plant design refinements.

The project is receiving $1.38 million in various grants, an interest free loan from USDA Rural Development and a matching interest-free loan from Tri-County REC.

The project offers an investment opportunity for local residents.

"One of the most exciting is the FFA at Crestwood High School in Cresco," Stevens said. "Having them as investors is inspirational."

Lime Springs Beef has 55 unit holders. The eight-member board of directors includes Stevens and vice president Darrin Ludwig. Vanette Grover is treasurer. Todd Pritchard of Charles City is legal counsel and secretary. Other board members are Jim Loquai, Red Wing, Minn.; Mike Kimble, Westford, Mass.; Eugene Herman, New Albin, and Stephen Eastman, Riceville.

The plant will buy cattle from certified Lime Springs Beef producers. The firm will develop protocols that producers will follow for each of its three meat categoriest —grass-fed, raised naturally and commercial beef. It will slaughter the animals, process and package the meat, and deliver and sell the meat to retail customers within a 200-mile radius of the plant.

The plant will be USDA certified and about 18,000 square feet in size.

Stevens anticipates the plant will be processing beef by early to mid-August 2014.