GARDINER — The recent completion of a dual red meat-poultry slaughterhouse in Gardiner represents both a step in the city’s effort to be a center for local food and an increase in the state’s infrastructure for locally raised meat.

The poultry slaughterhouse, the only one in the state inspected by U.S. Department of Agriculture, is killing and processing around 2,000 chickens and turkeys a week, and the operators of the red meat side expect to start slaughtering cattle and pigs by late July or early August at the Libby Hill Business Park plant. The company running the red meat side, Central Maine Meats, already is processing cattle and pigs three miles away on Brunswick Avenue.

There appears to be a need in the region for both slaughterhouses, said Ron Dyer, director of quality assurance and regulations for the Maine Department of Agriculture. Maine has five other USDA-inspected red meat slaughterhouses, but the closest ones to central Maine are up to an hour away — in North Anson, Warren or Windham. There are more state-inspected slaughterhouses, including two in West Gardiner. A difference between the inspections is that those inspected by the USDA can sell the meat across state lines, while the meat from Maine-inspected ones may be sold only in Maine.

Dyer said he’s pleased to see the Gardiner slaughterhouses open because he’s heard from farmers who say they need more places to take their animals. The Kennebec County region is also good for raising both cattle and chickens, he said, and the new slaughterhouses will reduce some farmers’ travel distance.

“It just creates an opportunity, and it’s up to the farming community and the slaughterhouses to make it all work,” Dyer said.

Bill Lovely, the owner of the slaughterhouse building and an owner of Central Maine Meats, said he’s already heard from a couple of farmers in Richmond who joked that they could walk their cattle to the slaughterhouse.

The poultry side, operated by Common Wealth Poultry Co., has been open since the beginning of March, slaughtering and processing chickens for Maine-ly Poultry in Warren, the state’s largest broiler chicken grower.

It’s the state’s only USDA-inspected poultry slaughterhouse and the first in decades, according to Richard Brzozowski, a poultry specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Its opening means Maine-ly Poultry will be able to increase the number of birds it raises and sells, and it might spur other to open similar operations it if succeeds, Brzozowski said.

He said it makes sense to open the slaughterhouse because people in Maine value local products, and chicken is the most popular meat.

“The demand for local food is so strong, and I don’t see an end to it,” Brzozowski said.

The owners of Common Wealth Poultry Co., a Whitefield couple in their 20s, met the owner of Maine-ly Poultry, John Barnstein, through a Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association mentorship program.

The couple, Gina Simmons and Ryan Wilson, had been slaughtering and processing poultry at a small plant in Whitefield before opening the Gardiner slaughterhouse, operating under the state’s 20,000-bird exemption. Last year, Wilson said, the company killed 20,000 birds in Whitefield, the limit before needing an inspection from the USDA or the state. In the years before that, the company had slaughtered 12,000, 7,000 and 3,000 birds, he said.

During an interview in March at the slaughterhouse shortly after it opened, Wilson said he was most proud of being able to create jobs for people in the area. Besides Wilson and Simmons, nine people work at the poultry operation.

“That’s what it’s really about to me,” Wilson said. “That’s the most important thing, hiring people, especially in a place like this, where the work didn’t really exist.”

Later that day, the slaughterhouse’s workers had just finished scrubbing down the walls of the rooms where the chickens were killed; and other workers, including Simmons and Barnstein, were cutting up and packaging the 250 chickens, vacuum-sealing the meat under the Maine-ly Poultry label.

“I feel like we’ve made it to the big leagues,” Wilson said while standing in the all-white packaging room in his white laboratory coat. “I started in the back of my parents’ barn. I mean, the whole slaughterhouse was half the size of this entire room.”

He said the slaughterhouse has the capacity to kill and process more birds if the company were to hire more workers. The company already has lined up two organic farms, Goranson Farm in Dresden and Straw’s Farm in Newcastle, to begin supplying chickens this summer.

The structure of the red meat side is complete, but the owners are awaiting the shipments of all of the equipment. The company’s processing plant on Brunswick Avenue is processing about five cattle and five pigs a week, but that will be up to 40 a week once the slaughterhouse opens, said Jennifer Wade, the company’s financial administrator.

Lovely — who owns the buildings, Central Maine Meats and ABJ General Contractor in Gardiner — opened the red meat processing plant in 2013 with a previous business partner under the name Northeast Meats. The other owner of Central Maine Meats, Joel Davis, has been a financial advisor in the region for a few decades.

Eventually, they’re planning to be able to slaughter and process 150 to 200 animals a week, Lovely said.

The company has applied for a $540,000 Community Development Block Grant, funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and expects a response in June. The grant would allow the company to expand its production more quickly and buy kitchen equipment to be able to make value-added products such as sausages and smoked meats, Lovely said.

Another goal of the company is to expand the amount of Maine meat raised and kept in the state, Lovely said. As part of that, the company is selling its meat to Emery’s Meat & Produce, which opened a Gardiner storefront at the start of the year and has another store in Newport.

“It’s hard to beat fresh, local products,” Lovely said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @pdkoenig