Car caper leads to self-serve slaughterhouseby Curtis Gilbert, Minnesota Public Radio
Car theft is one of the unpleasant realities of urban life. More than 2,000 vehicles are stolen every year in the city of St. Paul, alone -- even more in Minneapolis. But when my car disappeared from my St. Paul parking lot recently, it started me on a bizarre adventure that led to a do-it-yourself slaughterhouse.
Inver Grove Heights, Minn. — It could have been much worse. A few hours after reporting the car stolen, my phone rings, and it's good news: The police have found it!
"A little bit past midnight an officer saw a vehicle speeding down the roadway," explains Detective Joshua Otis with the Inver Grove Heights Police Department. "So the officer attempted to stop the vehicle. The occupants exited your vehicle and all ran in different directions."
Three of them get away, but the cops chase down the 15-year-old driver on foot and arrest him. Crime solved.
The police say I should be able to pick up the car the next day, but when Detective Otis gets to work in the morning, he smells something. Actually, everyone in the department smells something. This awful stench permeates the entire parking garage, and it's starting to seep into the main building, too.
These are cops. So, they investigate.
"We figured out the smell was coming from your vehicle," says Otis, "and we noticed you had some humidity on your back window, which isn't normal for a car that's sat in an air-conditioned building. So we popped the trunk, and I looked at my partner and said: 'You gotta be kidding me! Chickens.'"
Twenty-five chickens -- 24 of them still alive -- and you can imagine the mess they made during their day and a half in my trunk.
Detective Otis figures they were stolen.
"I don't know if they were going to use them to raise, or if they were going to use them for some kind of meal. Who knows?"
The guys who took my car probably snatched the chickens from John Jeffries. They are the breed he raises, and they were in his kind of crates. He didn't actually report any chickens missing, but when you go through between 700 and a 1,000 chickens a week, it's easy to miss two dozen.
At 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, Mr. Jeffries, 76, is on his knees, counting chickens. "Uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinqo," he calls out, as he pulls birds out of one blood-smeared crate and stuffs them into another. He can count in Hmong, too.
The place is full of customers and it's equipped with scalding tanks, meat hooks and butcher tables. That's because it's not just a chicken farm. It's a slaughterhouse -- a self-service slaughterhouse. You buy your chickens, or your pigs, or your cows or your sheep from Mr. Jeffries, and then kill them yourself right on site.
Eighteen years ago, Jeffries was a cattle trader, but that business was drying up. He was having a hard time buying enough cows just to fill up his semi-trucks.
"Well goodness," he says, "I discovered that I could make as much from a pickup load of chickens as I could from a semi load of cattle, and these people eat more chickens than any other nationality of people."
He's talking about Minnesota's growing Hmong population. It worked perfectly. Inver Grove Heights won't let Mr. Jeffries run a conventional slaughterhouse. But he can provide facilities for people to do it themselves. And there were plenty of recent immigrants who were used to doing things that way, too.
Today John Jeffries is a millionaire, and he's not the only one around here running this kind of operation.
"I have two other competitors that do a lot of chickens," he says. "I appreciate them being in business, because we sure couldn't handle them all."
It's the kind of place I never would have stumbled on in my regular, yuppie, food co-op life. And believe it or not, being out here on Saturday morning with chicken guts on my shoes -- it almost makes the all the hassle and expense of having the car stolen worth it.
Ten years from now, my little Honda Civic will be long gone. I'll have forgotten the $700 I spent replacing the steering column and cleaning the trunk (which will never smell the same.)
But meeting Mr. Jeffries and touring his slaughterhouse -- that's the kind of experience you carry with you your whole life. And I have the car thieves -- chicken thieves, actually -- to thank for it.
- Morning Edition, 06/18/2007, 6:50 a.m.