GROTON – A fire at a historic farm in the Nashoba Valley has devastated a beloved local institution and left a huge hole in the locally grown food movement across the state.
Blood Farm in West Groton, a family business that has employed seven generations of the Blood family, is one of only two USDA-approved slaughterhouses in Massachusetts. After an electrical fire destroyed the farm's smokehouse and meat processing facility early Sunday morning, the farmers who depend on the slaughterhouse have been left scrambling as they try to find another way to bring their meat to market.
"There's a lot of farmers all over New England that count on us to process their animals," said Dick Blood, who at 55 is the sixth generation of the Blood family to work the farm, as he stood in the charred remains of the smokehouse. "They raise them. It's their livelihood to make them into a salable product for restaurants, consumer consumption, and farmer's markets. That's a big thing."
On Monday, the family began what they said will be a long discussion of whether or not they will rebuild, and a chain of well-wishers came to offer condolences, to bring food, and to look at the destruction of an iconic part of life in the Groton area.
"I've been spending money here since 1948," W.S. Jones said as he shot video of the remains of a red, two-story, 8,500-square-foot facility that housed the smokehouse, meat cutters, and the farm's retail operation. The farm recently went through a busy period with people picking up roasts and hams for Christmas, jamming the parking lot for days.
"If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it," Jones said as he ran his lens over blackened hunks of metal. "Oh, boy, this is terrible."
Standing nearby was Kevin Nelson and his 17-year-old son Matt, who live in neighboring Pepperell. On Saturday, Matt had shot his first deer, and they had brought it to Blood Farm to be butchered.
"The woman who helped us was as excited as Matt was," he said. "Everyone that worked here was so great. They'd be cutting the meat, singing along, having a good old time. And the meat you'd get back was so good, the hardest part was cooking it to meet the expectations of that cut."
Sharon Blood, the office manager on the farm, said that about 20 employees would be out of work and that the financial impact could ripple further, to the many businesses that rely on the farm, from local co-ops to high-end restaurants in Boston.
Andy Hertel, the owner of Maple Heights Farm in Westminster, said the loss of the Blood Farm was going to devastate his business. He had two cows being processed when the fire hit.
"This is a big hole," Hertel said. "A lot of that meat has already been presold to customers who want local-grown meat. Now I've got to scramble, but it's going to be tough, because the slots at Blood were already booked six months in advance. I'm probably going to have to go to New Hampshire or Vermont, but I'm sure they're booked solid, as well, because there's so much demand for home-raised local beef and pork."
The impact has been very emotional for longtime customers and friends.
"Since the fire, we've had a stream of cars coming by to tell us how upset they are," Sharon Blood said. "It feels good to know people actually care, that it meant something. This farm is a part of this community. People have been coming here for generations. They bring their kids here to pet the barn cats and see the animals."
The fire is not the first to devastate a local institution in recent years. In 2011, fire destroyed the 333-year-old Groton Inn on Main Street, which has a "Think Local First" banner hanging across it. The inn had hosted everyone from Revolutionary War Minutemen to Eleanor Roosevelt.
The decision on whether to rebuild Blood Farm will fall to Barney Blood, 90, who was born on the farm and whose great-great-grandfather cut meat in the 1800s.
"I don't think it's set in yet," Blood said of the fire. "I'm still trying not to think about it. But I have some conversations I'll need to have with my son and my daughter-in-law."
Billy Baker can be reached at email@example.com.