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Doctoral Research

I completed my PhD in 2013, graduating from the agrifood studies program of an interdisciplinary social sciences department at Michigan State University, the Department of Community Sustainability (formerly Community, Agriculture, Recreation, and Resource Studies). My dissertation research concerned artisan food processing and food safety regulation in Michigan.

Artisan processors, for purposes of this research, emphasize manual production techniques and are involved with operations at each step of the process. Artisan processing is conducted at a small or medium scale, involves batch rather than continuous production, and allows for variability in products and processes.

Why a PhD?

This was a mid-career PhD, an idea that originated during the bright, frigid winters that I loved throughout the many years I lived in Duluth, Minn.

2004. Local food in an unlikely climate. Snowshoeing around the yard in Duluth, Minn.

Working with the Lake Superior Chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, I spent the growing season each year helping create and support direct market opportunities—farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, and other ways of promoting fresh local produce.

Yet the growing season was just a few months long. There were no frost-free months. In the off season, at some point between canning tomatoes and snowshoeing to the compost bin in my backyard, I began to wonder: Why aren’t there more commercial processing operations? Why hasn’t regional food processing seized people’s imagination the way fresh produce has? (This was before the artisan food craze had swept this part of the country.)

Eventually, after avowing for years that I would never do a PhD, these questions took shape as a dissertation topic.

Research Overview

My research aimed to identify ways of improving the regulatory process for Michigan’s artisan processors.

From 2011 to 2013, I spoke with 34 artisan producers of bread, cheese, and jam, and with 21 Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development food and dairy inspectors about their experiences working with each other. I also observed about a dozen of each in action: I saw bread and cheese being made, and I accompanied inspectors on food safety inspections of these facilities.

The work was qualitative and used a theoretical approach drawn from sociology of agriculture and science and technology studies, in particular actor-network theory (ANT). Details on how I used ANT as a methodology and what I found start on the next page.


This research was supported by a University Distinguished Fellowship from Michigan State University, with grants from the National Science Foundation (Award # SES-1230878) and the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (Award # GNC10-134), and funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.