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Food & Agriculture

1998. Ken Peterson (right) leads a Sustainable Farming Assoc. field day at his beef farm near Tamarack, Minn.

From 1995 to 2016, I worked as a non-profit administrator, researcher, and educator in sustainable food and agricultural systems in the Great Lakes area of the US.

This page summarizes my approach to projects, education, and research with reference to this experience.

In Summary
A Collaborative, Facilitative, and Practical Approach

My experience in food and agriculture honed a set of values and priorities in my work:

  • My approach to projects is one of broad collaboration and shared goals.
  • My facilitative approach to education engages practitioners as experts.
  • In research, I work as directly as possible with participants in the field and aim to produce results that they can use.

Collaborating with Practitioners in the Field and Classroom
Doctoral Research and Teaching

My mid-career doctoral research at Michigan State University was a collaboration with small food processing companies and regulators in the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD). I worked with them to develop and carry out research that informed regulatory practice that would achieve food safety goals while also addressing small processor concerns.

Webinar panel

2013. Webinar panel: Jenifer Buckley, Pearl Brown (baker), Laurie Sorensen (MDARD), Sue Spagnuolo (cheesemaker), Gordon Robinson (MDARD)

In outreach following the study, I developed and facilitated panel sessions that featured small processors who co-presented with state inspectors. The sessions were aimed at small food business audiences. One is available online as a webinar, “Working with Your Food Safety Inspector.”

“Thank you so much for this information. It is extremely helpful and has made the unknown not so scary,” one entrepreneur wrote afterward.

While at Michigan State, I also developed an undergraduate course, Regional Food Products and Processing in Michigan. The curriculum consisted of classroom sessions taught by food processing professionals and resource providers, and field trips to processing facilities.

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Facilitating Farmer-to-Farmer Education and Outreach
Sustainable Farming Association

sfa-logoThe Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota–Lake Superior Chapter (SFA) is a creative and energetic group of farmers working to build a regional food system in an unlikely climate. I met them when I moved north in 1995.

As their chapter coordinator over seven years and board member for another four, I helped organize farmer-to-farmer educational programming, direct marketing opportunities, and consumer outreach. The SFA’s flagship event was—and still is—its annual Harvest Festival, held the Saturday after Labor Day in Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park.

Like its chapters, the statewide SFA is an excellent networking resource for small and value-added producers.

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Helping Food Processing Companies Apply USDA Organic Standards
Organic Processing Institute

OPI logo

Shortly before finishing my PhD in 2013, I moved back to my home state of Wisconsin to work with the Organic Processing Institute (OPI), a nonprofit organization helping organic food processors in the Upper Midwest and nationally with education, networking, and technical assistance.

Elena Byrne and Jenifer Buckley, OPI booth at MOSES Conference 2014

2014. Elena Byrne and Jenifer Buckley speak with processors, MOSES Organic Farming Conference.

As Business Development Facilitator, I trained food processing companies, entrepreneurs, and resource providers on issues such as USDA organic certification, labeling requirements, and ingredient sourcing. Trainings included the 15-session School for Organic Processing Entrepreneurs for which I recruited 20 expert practitioner-instructors.

OPI closed at the end of 2015. Our fact sheets, case studies, and other resources live on in other websites, including here.

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