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With a code change, Virginia Beach farmers can now process meats and other products on-site

Billy Vaughan and Caroline Boatwright outside the Meat Shack at Coastal Cattle farm.
Billy Vaughan and Caroline Boatwright stand outside The Meat Shack at Coastal Cattle farm in Virginia Beach. (Photo: Paul Bibeau/WHRO)

Billy Vaughan’s family has owned his Pungo farm, Coastal Cattle, since the early 18th century. 

He wants to make the store on his property — The Meat Shack — a destination spot for events and shopping. But high costs for labor, fuel and processing forced him to raise his own prices and limited expansion options. 

He hopes a new ordinance will change that.

Virginia Beach City Council recently passed a new city code provision allowing farmers like Vaughan to process cattle, chickens and vegetables, and grains on their property. Before the decision, farmers had to send their livestock and products elsewhere — and pay additional charges for processing.

Vaughan said it will help farmers to cut costs and grow operations.

Under the new rules, beef farmers are not allowed to slaughter livestock. But they can butcher the meat of up to 250 animals a year after they’re killed. Chicken farmers can slaughter and butcher up to 20,000 birds a year. The rules also make way for grain-related processing, like grinding corn into animal feed. 

Vaughan has 150 cows and about 2,000 chickens. He said the old city code forced him to spend an additional $80,000 a year to process beef at a North Carolina plant. 

Now, he’s considering building a processing plant and hiring up to eight workers to process the beef on his own property.

The city’s Agricultural Advisory Commission first pushed for the change last year. David Trimmer, the commission’s director, said in an email that the code also allows grain farmers to grind their corn into animal feed on-site.

Orchards were already allowed to make cider, he added. 

But the old rules weren’t clear, said Mike Cullipher, co-owner of Cullipher Farm in Virginia Beach. He was unsure whether it was legal for him to process fruit into wine and cider on his property and was unwilling to invest money pursuing it. But Cullipher’s family is now drawing up a business plan to do so.

He added cider-making allows a fruit grower to make a product people will buy even if they don’t want to pick it themselves on an afternoon trip.

“People will drink even if it’s raining,” he said.

Vaughan praised the new code and said he was optimistic about the future of his 300 year-old farm. As he expands he's planning events and activities to bring people in.

Caroline Boatwright, event coordinator at Coastal Cattle, has been surveying potential clients to test their interest in wine-tasting, canning classes — or even goat yoga.

“Baby goats will come and jump on your back while you're doing downward dog or something,” she said. “It's a lot of fun.”