Literature at the Petaluma Visitors Center is not likely to mention that Petaluma is home to the Bay Area?s last remaining slaughterhouse.

But Rancho Veal, the slaughterhouse on Petaluma Boulevard North a mile south of the Cinnabar Theater, is almost certain to give way to development within the next two years. The owners, Babe Amaral and Robert Singleton, are retiring, and the 90-year-old facility has seen declining business as ranching gives way to grapes in Sonoma County.

The decline is no surprise. Many ranchers are forced to sell their livestock for less than the cost of raising them. That?s because feedlots, slaughterers, distributors and retailers each take a share of the cost of getting the meat to market.

So why should Petaluma care about the loss of an antiquated slaughterhouse? Two reasons.

One is that the struggling dairy industry is dependent on Rancho Veal to buy their male calves and older cows that no longer produce milk.

?Almost everybody in the dairy business uses Rancho for male calves,? says Mike Gale of Chileno Valley Natural Beef. The loss of Rancho Veal means that livestock would have to be trucked to Fresno or Orland, resulting in higher costs and more stress for the animals.

Secondly, the number of people who want locally raised, sustainably farmed and processed beef and lamb is growing at the rate of 20 percent a year. The fact that customers are willing to pay considerably more for these products could be the key to revitalizing ranching in Sonoma County.

A solution is on the horizon. Samuel Goldberger and Phyllis Faber of North Coast Meats hope to build a new multi-species slaughterhouse to address these needs and perhaps make it possible for ranching to flourish once again in the North Bay.

And it won?t be your grandpa?s slaughterhouse. The facility, still in the feasibility study phase, will be built to green specifications and will be certified to process both organic and non-organic meats.

The vertically integrated business will process the meat, distribute it and market it locally, eliminating the middleman or the need to send animals to distant feedlots.

The business, says Goldberger, ?would complete the chain between farmer and market. In that way we would be able to capture as much of the consumer dollar as possible for the rancher.?

A profit-sharing element would further benefit ranchers.

The slaughterhouse would follow the successful New Zealand model of profitable, small-scale meat plants by being environmentally sustainable and paying high wages and benefits to their workers.

A traditional slaughterhouse produces tons of polluting waste in the form of effluent from the animals and offal ? the inedible portion of the animal. At one time, slaughterhouses sold the offal to be processed into components, but increasingly, facilities have to pay to have the offal taken away.

North Coast Meats plans to recycle these byproducts to produce energy. The fat will be converted to biodiesel that will run the facility?s trucks, and the rest will be converted to methanol in a digester process developed by U.C. Davis, and used to provide power for the facility.

Won?t that be costly?

?Experience with the design of green buildings has shown that it isn?t necessarily more expensive to create an environmentally sustainable facility than it is to create a nasty one, because you recapture many of the costs,? says Goldberger.

Faber, the co-founder of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, is deeply connected to North Bay ranchers and their needs. Many ranchers, she found, have to work a second job to make ends meet, or to sell their increasingly valuable land for development. For her, local vertical integration of the meat industry is the key to keeping the North Bay?s agricultural heritage alive.

Goldberger is considering Petaluma and Ukiah for the home of the new slaughterhouse, although the final location and specifics won?t be determined until after a feasibility study is completed. The study will get under way soon, since the U.S. Economic Development Administration recently granted North Coast Meats $200,000 to fund the study.

Goldberger met with Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce members recently and told them his company is very interested in locating in Petaluma.

(Contact Bonnie Allen at argus@arguscourier.com)