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Processing & Food Systems Infrastructure

Processing and Infrastructure poster

Highlights from Day 1 of the SUMMIT, May 11th:Processing & Local Food Systems Infrastructure

•    Folks were really energized about how we can try and tackle this complex issue of processing needs and constraints for our state.
•    Recognize that we really need to look at the issues of meat distinctly from other food processing & value-added needs.
•    We recognize the need to look at disproportionate impacts of regulations on small-scale businesses and producers HOWEVER we don’t want to wait several years to get a study commission up and running; are there ways to move forward now?
•    Need to really get a much better understanding of the existing infrastructure available; need a good review & assessment of existing capacity.
•    We need to look at REGIONAL scale initiatives – local may be too small-scale when a lot of these needs require significant capital investment
•    Infrastructure includes the ECONOMIC CAPACITY whether through risk management or access to capital.
•    A lot of enthusiasm for a FOOD CZAR or OMBUDSMAN at the state level to be a point of contact.
•    A lot of ways to leverage federal resources at the local level to make process.

Original WIT meeting facilitator: Smithson Mills

staff: Jennifer Curtis

SUMMIT breakout leader: Uli Bennewitz, Weeping Radish Farm, Brewery & Butchery



Investing in local processing and related infrastructure is critical to building a local, sustainable food economy. It enables the creation of a wide array of products of interest to consumers, extends the marketing window and shelf-life of locally produced foods, and allows for full utilization of raw commodities and livestock. As a result there is less waste, improved profitability, and creation of new jobs in a high growth sector of the food economy. Additional benefits include improving food security by reducing transportation costs, fossil fuel use, and reliance on infrastructure outside the region. Examples of local food systems infrastructure include (but are not limited to) cold storage facilities, regionally located shared-use food processing centers and agricultural facilities (e.g., for grading, storage & packaging), community kitchens, privately-held co-packing facilities, dairy processing facilities (e.g., milk bottling, cheese-making and egg grading), grain milling, and meat and poultry slaughter & processing facilities.

North Carolina Perspective

The capacity of current food processing and other local foods systems infrastructure in North Carolina is not well understood. For starters, there are approximately 20 meat and poultry slaughter facilities in the state that are accessible to independent farmers, including custom plants and plants under state or federal inspection. There is a limited number of shared-use food processing facilities (e.g., Blue Ridge Food Ventures) or community kitchens (one each in Graham and Rockingham counties) or regional agricultural facilities (e.g., a Multi-Purpose Agricultural Complex in Madison County). And there is a limited understanding of the capacity of existing privately held “co-packing” facilities to process and add-value for local markets. Those that do exist offer important information and lessons learned for future capacity-building efforts.

Issues Under Discussion

Key issues under discussion include how to expand independent farmers’ access to affordable value-added processing and agricultural facilities while ensuring profitability and food safety. The success of new shared-use facilities is highly dependent on a variety of factors, including: 1) location, which in some cases means being within proximity to food entrepreneurs and their consumer markets, 2) client access to technical assistance and training in business management and marketing and 3) availability of appropriate capital. In the case of meat slaughter and processing, equipment, staff training and quality butchering are needed to meet the standards required by retail and food service markets. In addition, it is recognized that improved supply chain management is necessary to enable sufficient aggregation and entry of farmers’ products into local channel markets. Of concern is the lack of a single “one-stop” shopping source of regulatory, educational and technical assistance information at the state level for farmers, food entrepreneurs and food system businesses. A related and profound concern is the confluence of federal, state, county and local regulatory requirements, which when taken all together impede development of and investment in small-scale facilities at the local level.

The initial WIT meeting produced the following ideas, to discussed, developed, and expanded further at the SUMMIT:


Game Changer

We propose to develop a Food Safety & Security Commission, sanctioned by the NC Legislature, to identify opportunities to eliminate disproportionate impacts on small-scale food production, processing and marketing businesses. The Commission would consider the creation of a NC Food Code and, in particular, assess the impacts of environmental, food safety, insurance, meat inspection, county building and health department regulations on small-scale food processing businesses with a particular eye on recommendations that support a coordinated regulatory response to these obstacles to innovation and profitability.


Other Statewide Action Plan Ideas

  • Develop several regional resource experts for small-scale plants
  • Adopt a NC Food Code to facilitate coordination across different regulatory authorities
  • Establish “one-stop” shopping resource center for farmers and food entrepreneurs
  • Promote scale-appropriate insurance for producers and processors

Local Action Ideas

  • Assessment: Identify existing local resources, including expertise, facilities, raw commodities, etc…
  • Partnerships: Seek out and/or support food entrepreneurs, chefs, master canners
  • Market Analysis: assess market opportunities (niche markets, cultural penchants, etc…)
  • Resources: Develop local resources to fill needs (e.g., training programs for business start-ups).


Notes on Processing and Infrastructure WIT SUMMIT Breakout Session:

Game Changer: Develop a Food Safety & Security Study Commission, sanctioned by the NC Legislature, to identify opportunities to eliminate disproportionate impacts on small-scale food production, processing and marketing businesses.

Reactions to Game Changer & Other State Action Ideas

  • Focus of Commission should be on how to streamline regulatory environment.
  • Game changer should include a goal statement such as: to encourage small-scale food production and processing, including innovation and generating unique/high quality products.
  • STUDY COMMISSION TAKES TOO LONG: Problem with study commission is that it’ll take two years to even get established; HOWEVER study commission gives guidance and power to decision-makers to act on findings.
  • ARE THERE OTHER MODELS: Need to consider what other states have taken on this issue and how they have tackled it; are there models and experiences we can learn from?
  • NEED SOME KIND OF STUDY & ASSESSMENT: We need to know what type and breadth of processing capacity already exists
    • Assessment of needs, gaps, opportunities for growth
    • Need to consider the cost of integrating private custom plants into local food system; is it better to start anew or are there opportunities to train existing butchers and plant managers?
    • Similar issue is under-utilized capacity; look at the Ashe County facility; needs volume moving through this shared-use plant in order to be profitable; need to look at economies of scale.
    • Look at data already collected at NCDA
    • Focus on economic development potential of investment in food infrastructure
    • Consider meat separately from other value-added food products
  • We need a centralized system that deals with all facets of food systems infrastructure; lots of support for:
  • OMBUDSMAN/CZAR: Why don’t we establish an NCDA/Extension or Ombudsman who can be a point person / centralized source?  This person should not be a regulator but someone who helps FACILITATE the process; someone equivalent to Smithson Mills but working for the state who can help producers, processors, others by coaching through the tangled web of regulation around such issues as:
    • Labeling, waste water, fire, insurance, building codes, transportation, etc…
    • Help coordinate across state/federal/local levels—strive for consistency across the state as well as between all levels.
    • Consider need for NC Food Code
    • Address small-mid-scale processing needs & multi-species plants
    • Master list of agencies/people
  • ECONOMIC INFRASTRUCTURE: Infrastructure includes economic infrastructure—access to credit, risk management strategies such as product liability insurance, crop insurance, disaster relief programs, ownership models.
  • Greater training & integration of NCDA & extension & USDA; in terms of creating regional resource experts, this should come from these agencies but who will train them?
  • Bring back the “art” in “artisan.” So much know-how is missing; education of artisan butchers; create apprenticeships and training programs on-site and abroad.
  • Product development is often out-sourced; could be done at state level.
  • M OBILE PROCESSING RESOURCES; traveling butchers (see Italy as an example; on-farm slaughter; how can we get that happening and scalable? WFM is pushing this in a big way; just the beginning).  (Don Delouzier discussed models for low-cost mobile canning facilities at first WIT meeting).
  • Food safety – this discussion must encompass a broad view of food safety, not a narrow perspective of specific agents, such as e.coli.
  • Make sure farmers are on the commission.
  • Separate out the issue of meat processing from other infrastructure needs.
  • Need poultry processing in eastern North Carolina.
  • FOCUS ON INSTITUTIONAL MARKETS & MID-SIZE PRODUCTION & INFRASTRUCTURE: We need to figure out how to link processors to institutions & mid-size producers! Need to pool our resources (ADFPTF, TTF, & Golden Leaf) and respond to institutional demand & growing market.
  • Farmers have limited resources to invest in and scale processing capacity.
  • We need to think about the fact that some of what we are dealing with is in federal laws; poultry processing, for example; we need to lobby Congress & the Administration.
  • Need to consider support for family vs. corporate farms.

Specific Strategies / Activities / Partners to Engage

  • Work with School of Government at UNC and their Public Infrastructure Program (also address land use regulations).
  • Enlist in the near term a graduate student to assess existing processing capacity and needed gaps to fill.

Local Action Ideas

  • Include in definition of local, in this instance, regional; infrastructure is capital intensive and requires volume to be profitable thus we need to consider needs at the regional level.
  • Consider developing infrastructure utilizing a systems approach; make sure that it is developed in coordination with the supply and markets and other related industries that make up the value chain.
  • Consider particular populations in your area.  Are there ethnic groups who are looking for certain products?  If so, consider making them!
  • Utilize existing resources & develop new partnerships such as local school kitchens (if they have one!) and church kitchens before necessarily building new capacity.
  • Look at the process of developing Farmland Protection Plans at the county level as a planning mechanism for assessing processing capacity; even though this is done at the county level there is strong support for considering agricultural land and potential markets so why not include a greater emphasis on the infrastructure capacity.
  • Local communities can leverage federal risk management dollars.  See example in Fresno, California where they are utilizing federal dollars to create no-interest loans to farmers selling at markets who suffered crop failure.
  • Look for opportunities to link agriculture with development and commerce; link to local business development offices and get folks who support small business development focused on helping local food & agriculture businesses.
  • Encourage your community colleges to expand programming in food systems; see CCC as a model.
  • Host a Local Food Expo to bring businesses together who produce, butcher, cook and buy food!  This builds on NCDA’s Regional Flavors expo put on by Matt Tunnel.