Spring is Primetime to Network for Michigan’s Meat Processors
By: Noel Bielaczyc, Food Hub and Meat Value Chain Specialist, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
Spring is here, and Michigan’s fruit and vegetable producers are busy prepping fields, starting seeds, and generally ramping up for the summer growing season. The same is true for many livestock producers, who are busy with young animals and pasture management. But for one sector of Michigan’s food system, spring is a time of rest and recovery. Michigan’s small and mid-sized meat processors are finally getting some relief after months of operating at full capacity.
For these small and mid-sized processors, fall and winter are the busy season: 12+ hour shifts, 6 (and even 7) days a week! The spring calm is usually welcomed as a time to revisit projects that have been put off, for making updates to plants, for spending time with family, and even for taking a well-deserved vacation. It’s also time for the Michigan Meat Association (MMA) annual convention in Lansing.
The MMA is a professional association for meat processors, and has represented many of Michigan’s ‘Mom-and-Pop’ butchers and retail-oriented processors since 1958. MMA supports its members by providing technical and regulatory assistance to enhance productivity and maintain the viability of the meat processing sector.
The MMA Annual Convention is strong reminder of the important, and often overlooked role that small & mid-sized meat processors play in our local food system. The convention provides an opportunity for processors (and their families) to gather, catch up with friends and colleagues, attend seminars, share challenges, and celebrate successes. The annual prime rib banquet and cured meat competition make this event a truly unique experience, and helps sustain this hard working, tight-knit community.
This year, there was something new: “Michigan Meat Happy Hour.” The CRFS-based Michigan Meat Network helped plan this joint event in partnership with MMA to bring together the whole meat value chain, including livestock producers, protein distributors, and food service professionals (in addition to meat processors). Held the day before the MMA Convention at EagleMonk Brewery, this event created a space for networking, constructive discussions, and lots of friendly chatter. It was a success despite widespread power outages and snarled traffic from the previous day’s windstorm. The Michigan Meat Network was thrilled to be involved in the MMA Convention this year and looks forward to future collaboration!
Also coinciding with the MMA Convention, was the release of a new Michigan Meat Processing Infographic resource, intended to help demystify meat processing and inspection regulations here in Michigan. The infographic is the result of a UDSA-funded project examining current regulatory challenges for local and regional meat value chains. The project was led MSU Ag, Food and Resource Economist Steve Miller and CRFS specialist Jude Barry. This infographic and the accompanying paper will be available soon in digital form on the MSU Center for Regional Food System website.