Six weeks after an electrical fire destroyed Blood Farm butchery in Groton, a network of customers, farmers, foodies and town and state officials has come together to help the Blood Farm "family" of 20 employees survive.
Barney Blood, the 90-year old owner and patriarch of the family business, is meeting with architects and contractors and planning to rebuild in time for the 2014 harvest. Since the Dec. 29 fire, most of the business's employees have been unemployed -- and they are the heart and soul of the business. Keeping that group of skilled employees together is a key to helping Blood Farm succeed after it rebuilds.
"Walking in to Blood Farm has always been like walking into a friend's home. It was not the building, it was the people. As both a consumer and a meat producer, I saw both sides of their operation, and the thing that ran through it all was the way I was treated. I always came away with a smile," Groton selectman and farmer Jack Petropoulos said. "I am privileged to be a part of giving that smile back."
Blood has guaranteed jobs to all his employees, but some are having trouble making ends meet through a cold New England winter. The Blood Farm Employee Assistance Group has set up a website, bloodfarmgroton.com, to raise funds to assist employees until the business reopens in the fall. The Groton Community Foundation, a nonprofit foundation, led by restaurateur Steve Webber of the Webber Restaurant Group (Gibbet Hill Grill and Barn, Scarlett Oak Tavern, and other properties), is overseeing the collection and disbursement of funds.
The slaughterhouse, butcher shop and smoke house business date to the Civil War; the family farm itself is more than a century older.
Because Blood Farm was one of just two FDA-approved slaughterhouses in the state, and because of its reputation for humane practices and high quality meats, the business attracted farmers from Maine down through Connecticut as meat processing customers. The quality of the meats, the atmosphere of the retail store and the staff's ability to custom cut and prepare almost any cut of beef, pork or poultry earned it a devoted following in the gourmet and foodie communities. Blood Farm also bought and processed hard-to-find meats -- 4-H rabbits and lambs, goat (highly prized in Boston's immigrant and ethnic communities -- the business was considered halal by the Boston Islamic community), and was known for its preparation of hunters' deer.
State Rep. Shelia Harrington is heading up an effort to put together a fundraising event to help. She is also working with Blood Farm, the state Farm Bureau and Blood's Insurance companies to move the rebuilding process along.
"When I was asked to be a part of the effort to help the Blood Farm employees, I jumped at the opportunity," she said. "Blood Farm is such an integral part of this community, and has been for hundreds of years. It's one of the only certified butcheries in the state, and it employs more than 20 people. We need to do everything we can to support the employees of Blood Farm while it is being rebuilt. We owe it to them.
"We're planning a big fundraiser for Feb. 27 at Gibbet Hill in Groton, to benefit the Blood Farm Employees Assistance Fund. There will be music and food, and we'll be coming together to celebrate Blood Farm, and to do what we can for their employees during their time of need," Harrington said.
In addition to financial contributions, the Groton Board of Selectmen is coordinating donations of food, fuel and heating fuel.
Maria Borino, owner of Pizzeria Maria in Nashua, N.H., was one of the first people to ask about helping out. The morning of the fire, she wrote, "I own a local pizza place, Pizzeria Maria, in Nashua, and I highlight their bacon and name on my menu. They are a great family and have had a family of long-term employees. I would like to do whatever I can to start a fundraising effort for them in some way and would love your help in getting that information out to the local communities."
Borino has set up the Blood Farm Employee Assistance Group's Facebook page.
The Blood Farm Employee Assistance Group core organizations and businesses include:
* Blood Farm
* Groton Board of Selectmen
* Groton Board of Trade
* Groton Community Foundation
* Pizzeria Maria
* The Groton Line (media sponsor)
* The Technology Front
SHEILA HARRINGTON, STATE REP.
JACK PETROPOULOS, SELECTMAN