A Maryland cheesemakers guild: Supporting producers, connecting with consumers

Project Overview

ONE16-269
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $14,435.00
Projected End Date: 12/15/2017
Grant Recipient: University of Maryland
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Ginger Myers
University of Maryland Extension

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Animal Products: dairy

Practices

  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: value added
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    For years, Maryland has banned the sale of raw milk and raw milk products, even though such products made outside Maryland could be sold here. Dairy producers had to transport their milk to Pennsylvania, have it made into cheese, and then transport the finished product home. During the same time period, other value-added products such as wineries, breweries, and distilleries have thrived and formed Maryland Guilds for each of these products. Despite the arduous health department regulations and production concerns, Maryland now boosts 23 cheese producers. Some raw milk cheeses are now being made here. Much of the industries success can be contributed to producers’ proximity to the markets in the Baltimore-Washington corridor and the publics’ desire for all things local. Maryland’s cheesemakers are scattered across the timeline of production skills, marketing strategies, product identity and branding, ongoing professional development, and consumer education efforts. A Maryland Cheesemakers’ Guild- would provide:1. Representation of cheesemakers concerns for regulatory and business development issues to decision makers in Maryland.2. Educational opportunities for producers to improve the quality and quantity of their product.3. Participation in marketing and promotional events such as the Maryland Wine Festival, several local fair events, the Governor’s Buy Local Cookout, and the development of a State Cheese Trail similar to the existing Wine and Ice-cream trails.4. Through a dedicated Guild secretary, develop their website for member support plus launch a social media presence.5. Design, publish, and distribute consumer promotion materials.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Proposed Solution

    Though successful through their perseverance and dedication to producing a quality cheese, Maryland’s artisan and farmstead cheese makers are scattered across the timeline of production skills, marketing strategies, product identity and branding, ongoing professional development, and consumer education efforts. Launching and supporting a member driven trade organization- The Maryland Cheesemakers’ Guild- would provide a platform for:

    1. Formation of a Board of Directors, Guild Secretary, and working committees to address producer and consumer concerns.
    2. Representation of the cheesemakers concerns for regulatory and business development issues to decision makers in Maryland.
    3. Educational opportunities for producers to improve the quality and quantity of their product.
    4. Participation in marketing and promotional events such as the Maryland Wine Festival, several local fair events, the Governor’s Buy Local Cookout, and the development of a State Cheese Trail similar to the existing Wine and Ice-cream trails to encourage consumers to visit the farms and purchase product.
    5. Through a dedicated Guild secretary, develop their website for member support plus launch a social media presence.
    6. Design, publish, and distribute consumer promotion materials to guild members for use in their marketing programs.
    Since producers will be very busy, the Extension Specialist, working with farmer partners and the Guild Secretary, will serve as the coordinator for these efforts.

    What are your proposed methods?
    Objective 1: Formation of a Board of Directors, Guild Secretary, and working committees to address producer and consumer concerns.
    This will be a farmer-to-farmer lead effort. The core project team will plan an initial membership drive event to recruit Guild members, explain the purpose of the Guild, and solicit volunteers to serve on committees. Committee work will be important to the guild’s success so that more issues can be addressed than any one committee has the time or interest to pursue. Committee chairs will be designated from the project partners to ensure leadership.
    This meeting will also be an opportunity to collect input from members concerning moving the industry forward in Maryland.
    The membership recruitment meeting will be held on a producer’s farm. This will set the stage for Guild programs and activities that emphasize educational opportunities, marketing and regulatory discussions, and the opportunity to network and for camaraderie among producers.
    All project team members will attend this meeting to brief Guild members on the collaborative opportunities of working with other established Guilds in the State, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, local Agricultural Marketing Specialist, and University of Maryland Extension.
    Measurable results will include the number of producers who join the Guild and the committees that are formed.
    So what factor? Establishment of professional educational and promotional organization to help bolster Maryland’s Artisan and Farmstead Cheese Industry.
    Objective 2: Educational opportunities for producers to improve the quality and quantity of their product.
    Coordinating with the project partners and in the future with the Guild’s “Education and Training Committee”, two educational workshops will be given.
    Measurable results will include attendance at the events, new Guild members recruited, and post workshop on-line surveys of knowledge acquired and implemented.
    So what factor? Improved product, more educated cheesemakers, and increase sales and profitability for producers.

    Objective 3: Representation of the cheesemakers concerns for regulatory and business development issues to decision makers in Maryland.
    There is currently no vehicle for the exchange, feedback, and discussion of regulatory production issues between small cheese producers and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene(DHMH). The Department has limited staff and budget and cannot afford to customize their services.  The “Regulations Committee” of the guild could serve as a liaison from the group to state officials as well as give regulators ‘real time” feedback on regulation implementation.
    Measurable results would include better communications between producers and regulators. This communications channel would provide a platform for discussion of implementation and interpretation of regulations for producers.
    So what factor? The result would be reduced friction between producers and regulators.
    Objective 4: Through a dedicated Guild secretary, develop their website for member support plus launch a social media presence. Design, publish, and distribute consumer promotion materials to Guild members for use in their marketing programs.
    The Guild secretary and the website will serve as the hub for the Guild. The website will promote the Guild but will also post upcoming events and cheese making resources. The secretary will distribute information concerning upcoming events and registration for seminar and marketing events.
    Working with the “Marketing Committee” the project team will assist in designing, publishing, and distributing Point-of-Sales promotional materials about Maryland Artisan and Farmstead Cheese for Guild members to use at their sale and joint marketing events.
    Measurable results will include the number of material distributed. A follow-up survey will be sent to Guild members to determine the effectiveness of the materials, suggested changes, and anticipated needs for on-going materials. Guild members will have access to PDFs of promotion materials for their own printing and use.
    So what factor? Better educated consumer about both Maryland produced cheeses andalso the value of dairy farms in Maryland.
    Objective 5: Participation in marketing and promotional events such as the Maryland Wine Festival, several local fair events, the Governor’s Buy Local Cookout, and the development of a State Cheese Trail similar to the existing Wine and Ice-cream trails to encourage consumers to visit the farms and purchase product.

    The Guild will also pursue joint efforts with Grow and Fortify Groups that are supporting and promoting Maryland’s value-added enterprises in Maryland.
    Measurable results will include guild member participation, the establishment of a “Cheese Trail”, increased sales and profits for producers participating in these events.
    So what factor? Increase awareness by the public of local artisan food and beverage products and value of buying local. More stability for these segments of Maryland agriculture and increase profitability for both producers and vendors

    Project Time Table – April 1, 2016- March 31, 2017

    April- Project team meets to design membership program and confirm work assignments. Develop draft of group’s marketing material. Develop a business plan for the project. Publicize project and Call for member participants.
    May- Member recruitment and information meeting coordinated by Guild Secretary and Extension Specialist. Develop list for Guild Committees and recruit chairs and members. Farm tour of one of the project partners. Collect data key issues facing producers. Formalize establish Guild. Expand sections of the website.
    June- Establish Board of Directors and Officers for the Guild. Working with Guild Secretary, farmer partners, and Ag Economic Development Specialist, develop and distribute consumer marketing piece for use at farmers’ markets, festivals, county fairs and other point of sales outlets.
    July- Educational Seminar on Marketing coordinated by Extension Specialist and assisted by participating farmer partners. Guild has representation at Governor’s Buy Local Cookout.
    August- Board of Directors Meeting and establish plan of work for the Guild, assign committee members to tasks, and plan events calendar. Member participation and consumer outreach at MD Breweries Festival. Coordination with Kevin Atticks to participate in festivals and join Grow and Fortify organization for joint promotion.
    September- Meet with legislative liaison, Maryland Department of Agriculture, and Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to discuss need for changes to regulations and advocate for Health Department Omsbudsman to act as a liaison between producers and the Health Department. Member participation and consumer outreach at MD Wine Festival.
    October- Educational Seminar coordinated by Extension Specialist and State Milk Control Office – Quality control and storage. Meeting on-farm, tour, and networking.
    November- Guild Membership meeting and Project Progress report. Determine any changes to plans or program at this point in the project.
    January- Presentation on project at Future Harvest CASA Annual Meeting. Start to disseminate information about the project to Ag press, websites, and newsletter. Guild and Guild Members participate in State’s “Buyer/ Grower Meeting”.
    February- collect data on Guild membership, progress toward project goals, member feedback, regulatory status.
    March- Recruitment meeting for new group members. Write final project report.

    Outreach Plan

    Scheduled meetings, collaborative marketing events, on-farm workshops, website development, and consumer education materials will be shared with the participating project partners during the course of the project in order to develop and refine the process and output materials.An outcomes report concerning the formation of the Guild and its impacts on Maryland Cheese producers will be posted on the Maryland Rural Enterprise Development Website, http://extension.umd.edu/MREDC , the University of Maryland Ag Marketing website, http://extension.umd.edu/Agmarketing, and shared with the media and other regional Extension information outlets. Video recordings of the two on-farm workshops to be held during this project will also be posted on both of these websites. A presentation about the formation of the Guild and its collaborative marketing efforts will be made at the2017 Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture Conference in Dover, DE.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.