Artisan food processors and Michigan food safety inspectors were interviewed in a qualitative study to identify means of improving the regulatory process for small and medium food processors. The rapport between artisans and inspectors emerged as an important aspect of the regulatory process. Artisans and inspectors who formed positive relationships reported working together to identify ways for producers to comply with requirements while pursuing (where possible) their own styles of production. These findings were discussed in focus groups of artisans and inspectors. Outreach included recommendations for regulators and small and medium food processors.
This study aimed to generate processor guidelines to help processors meet regulations cost-effectively, regulatory guidelines for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), and a stakeholder report for practitioners in both groups. The study responded to small processor concerns that regulations constrained their ability to create and expand businesses and to respond to market demand for local farm products. It investigated 1) artisan views of and experiences with regulations and inspections, and 2) food safety regulators’ experiences with and perceptions of artisan processing. The proposal was developed with the collaboration of small processors and regulators.
Following are the objectives as they appeared in our proposal.
- that processor guidelines improve processors’ knowledge about regulatory compliance and inspections, help them prepare better for inspections, and prevent misunderstandings that can cost time and money.
that regulatory guidelines identify ways in which inspector directives and trainings can be improved and increase regulator awareness of small processor educational needs.
that the study’s stakeholder report improve both groups’ understanding of each other’s perspectives and expectations.
- that small processors achieve more cost-effective compliance with food safety regulations.
that regulatory inspections, materials, and communication with small processors improve.
that food safety regulatory policy change.
- that these changes improve the profitability and sustainability of small processor businesses, stimulate Michigan’s small agrifood sector, and enhance quality of life for agrifood producers, rural communities, and society as a whole.
The scope of the study was slightly modified between proposal submission and the beginning of the research. First, the initial proposal called for a focus on small fruit, vegetable, honey, and cheese processors. However, artisan bread bakers were (and continue to be) a growing trend in Michigan. To include them, the scope was modified to focus on bread, cheese, and jam producers.
Second, the initial proposal focused on small artisan processors. However, neither “small” nor “artisan” is defined consistently in the scholarly literature, by practitioners, or even by economic development entities. We had aimed to focus on processors who employed fewer than 10 people and who used handcrafting methods, with minimal automation. We found that some handcrafting facilities with minimal automation employed more than 10 people, and we consequently eliminated that size criterion. In the working definition of artisanship that we developed, processors emphasized handcraft production, engaged in each step of the production process, and produced at a small or medium scale.
This study formed part of the doctoral research of the project coordinator, Jenifer Buckley. Her doctoral advisor, Dr. Jim Bingen, provided guidance throughout the study. Where used in this report, “I” refers to Buckley, and “we” refers to both.