Falling River Meats aims to be hyper-local butcher, support small farms

“We’re not going to do this just to support the Midwest meat industry,” said co-owner Darron Marzolf

When Darron and Christeena Marzolf opened Falling River Meats, their new butcher shop in North Bend, it wasn’t just to make a profit.

No, the couple — who are farmers themselves — know how hard it is to raise and sell livestock. And they want their shop to be a local hub, a place that sells meat raised right in Snoqualmie Valley.

“We’re not going to do this just to support the Midwest meat industry,” Darron, a fourth-generation butcher, said near the shop counter last week. ““We want to support our neighbors … We want to lessen our impact on the environment and also help our local farmers.”

Darron and Christeena started farming together on the outskirts of Redmond. Over the years, they’ve run several different businesses selling raw pet food, door-to-door delivery boxes and corn dogs – which have become a staple of the Ballard Farmers Market. Darron also serves as vice-chair on the King County Agriculture Commission.

Falling River Meats, a butchery and restaurant, is their latest venture, one they hope can help consumers understand the appeal and benefits of locally grown foods. Having been in the farming trenches – recalling the times they rescued 75 turkeys from a flood in Carnation – Christeena, a Mount Si alum, said they know the challenges facing small producers and the hurdles they overcome to sell their products.

“When you experience [farming] first-hand, and you’re the one out there, you’re trying to tell people why it’s better, why it’s more expensive,” she said. “If we can take on some of that burden, being at the forefront explaining why it’s expensive to do it this way, we can be the bellwether for these farms.”

Opening their doors comes at an opportune time, as small livestock farmers in King County have often been plagued by obstacles in recent years related to processing and selling to consumers.

Selling meat, particularly red meat, is a heavily regulated and complex operation. Most small farmers are dependent on regional processing facilities to legally sell to consumers, but for decades there have been few of those facilities available to farmers in King County.

The situation only worsened during the pandemic, as supply chain and labor force issues compounded with an already low supply of processors, making it even more difficult to access critical infrastructure. In 2022, reservations for all local meat processing facilities were booked out a year in advance, according to a presentation given to the King County Agriculture Commission.

But the pandemic-challenges did come with a silver lining, as it shined a light on the lack of facilities. As a result, record-levels of federal investment went into expanding and adding processing infrastructure. King County processors alone received $650,000 in grants as of last year.

One of those beneficiaries was Marzolf Meats, a Snohomish-based processing facility owned by Darron and Christeena. The facility won two grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Christeena said. The funding allows them to upgrade their processing unit to meet USDA standards.

USDA-approved slaughter facilities are required to sell red meat to retail. King County has one other USDA processing facility in Duvall, but the business does not buy local animals. That could make the Marzolf facility, once finshed, a jewel for local farmers and Falling River Meats.

Falling River currently sources its meat from the Preservation Meat Collective and Carmen Ranch, which come from farms in both Oregon and Washington. Once the processing facility is upgraded, however, they could have residents eating meat out of their own zip code, Darron said.

“When we get our USDA [facility] up and running, that’s when we get to be the hyper-local place that we’re trying to be,” Christeena said.

Until then, the shop, which opened Oct. 3 in what they’re dubbing a “soft-opening,” is getting its legs under it and expanding.

In addition to selling meats, the couple has hired Justin Fitch, a chef who previously worked in Oregon, Vermont and Georgia, to create a line of prepared sandwiches and salads, including vegan options. They also plan to hold classes, have backyard barbecues and collaborate with the neighboring Volition Brewing.

Fitch, who was working as a freelance photographer, was looking for more stable work and said he had been eyeing a corner store spot in downtown North Bend to open a new deli. Then he heard about the pending opening of Falling River and connected with Christeena.

“They beat me to the punch,” Fitch said. “But it was worth the wait because now we’re killing it, making awesome food, and we have lots of good plans for this place.”