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Market Development Assistance
The Division of Agriculture Resource Development helps facilitate market research and market development activities.
Food Hub development has become a buzzword for USDA and others in the Farm to Institution movement. Definition of Food Hub types can be found in a USDA document (The Role of Food Hubs in Local Food Marketing) and in an earlier publication from Cardiff University in 2008 (Food Hubs: The “Missing Middle” of the Local Food Infrastructure?). Both documents stress the need for entrepreneur development in the private sector as the most successful, long-term strategy for Food Hub development, even though public or private foundation funds may help get a fledgling Food Hub started.
One of the Department’s current programs is assisting with the development of consumer buying clubs as a new “Food Hub” type project to aggregate consumers where they can purchase direct products in conjunction with school systems. This includes development and support for an online ordering system for Maine fresh produce. More information and educational tools are available at www.fffme.com.
Other publications of interest to Food Hub development interests include the following:
- Assessing the Economic impacts of Regional Food Hubs: the Case of Regional Access by Todd M. Schmit of Cornell University, December 2013.
- Developing Consumer Advocates through Proactive Word-of-Mouth Marketing Techniques thereby Creating new Market and Distribution Models for Local Foods by John Harker, Tessa Burpee, Tanya Swain, and Tricia Cook, March, 2012.
- The Agricultural Creative Economy by John Harker,
- New England Beef to Institution Marketing Study prepared by Rose Wilson, Charlene Andersen, Louise Calderwood and Kate Rumley, October, 2011.
- Maine Farm to School Network Local Foods Procurement Survey by Jamel Torres, December, 2011.
- Down East Farm and Food Cluster Project, Farm to Cafeteria: New Markets, New Opportunities by Down East Business Alliance and Healthy Acadia/Healthy Maine Partnership, Spring 2008 - Spring 2009.
- A Study of the Use of Maine Produced Foodstuffs In Public Institutionsby Kelley Cobourn, April, 2004.
- Dairy Farms For The Future: Diversifying farms to expand direct markets for milk products by Kerri Sands and Russell Libby, December 2004.
Small Scale Food Processing
The Department regularly assists Maine citizens who wish to start food processing either in their homes, or in commercial kitchens. Occasionally, we get requests from companies who are starting larger scale operations. The Department has a number of staff and programs who can assist in development of safe and profitable enterprises. Our Division of Resource Development assists small food processors with education and provides direct technical assistance to create sound, bankable business plans through our Nxlevel business planning course. Our business development specialists work with farmers and processors in developing business plans and loan applications when they apply to the Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund. Through the Farms For The Future program, farmers have added food processing enterprises to their businesses.
Our Division of Quality Assurance provides instruction at workshops such as “Recipe to Market; How to Start a Specialty Food Business in Maine” courses put on by Cooperative Extension. The Division has put on Kitchen Licensing Workshops and Seafood HACCP Training Workshops. Staff have also assisted food processors in developing comprehensive regulatory food safety programs specific to their products and processes. Our diagnostic lab provides test results to new distributors before and/or after licensing for their food products. Free troubleshooting tests are provided when problems are identified. Lab personnel are available to answer questions or to direct them to professionals who can assist them.
Regulatory inspectors work with several small producers at USDA GAP/GHP program workshops put on by Cooperative Extension or through our contracted provider, AgMatters. Staff also provides fresh produce food safety instruction workshops that help small processors with information they need to make sound business decisions in regards to USDA audit-based programs.
Staff helps educate small food producers such as home foods manufacturers on what they must do to produce value-added products in their homes. Some of the questions have been: What can I produce if I process in a separate facility from my home?, Do I need to have my product tested?, Does my product need to be labeled?, If so what does the label need to include?, Do I need to obtain a license for my product?, can I wholesale as well as retail my product?, as well as many others. Staff fields questions from small producers and processors on a weekly basis by e-mail, phone, and in person.
The Small Business Administration, through the Small Business Development Centers, provides free technical assistance to help small food processors put together business plans. Cooperative Extension is also involved and provides educational services through their specialists at the University of Maine. Coastal Enterprises also has developed programs to support technical assistance to small food processors. The Department works cooperatively with all these agencies, as well as other non-profits, to support small food processors.