HVADC Partner: Berkshire Agricultural Ventures
Dec 22, 2023
Helping meat processors navigate food safety regulations
In just about six years, Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation (HVADC) peer organization Berkshire Agricultural Ventures (BAV) has become a successful and innovative agricultural aid nonprofit that western Massachusetts agibusiness has come to depend on. BAV recently launched a food safety regulation hotline, facilitated by AgriForaging Food Safety, which answers vital compliance questions for local meat processors. The project has become an instant hit, creating a one-of-a-kind service that makes it easier for entrepreneurs to navigate the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulatory system.
Started in 2017, BAV’s mission is to support the development and viability of local farms and food businesses in order to build a thriving and equitable local food economy. For clients in the Berkshire-Taconic region, the organization provides Business Technical Assistance (BTA), a low interest loan fund, grant acquisition services and a host of specialized programs like the Local Meat Processing Support Program (LMPSP), which founded the hotline. The BAV’s services in its region are very much aligned with those that HVADC provides in the Hudson Valley.
The new State & Federal Meat & Poultry Compliance Food Safety HACCP Hotline, was the collaborative brain child of BAV LMPSP Manager Jake Levin and AgriForaging Food Safety CEO Nicole E. Day. Processors with questions can make appointments online through links on both organization’s websites for in-depth consultations. The hotline is not just open to the immediate BAV service area and may also be accessed by HVADC clients and Hudson Valley agribusinesses.
“Navigating the complex web of regulations, standards, and best practices in the meat and poultry industry can be a daunting task,” Day says in the program’s mission statement, “Whether you're a seasoned farm owner, a dedicated butcher, a thriving agricultural business, a bustling State/Federal establishment, a trusted slaughterhouse, a visionary entrepreneur, or a renowned restaurant, the ever-evolving landscape of food safety compliance can leave you with questions and concerns.”
Levin met Day when he was a butcher and meat processor, before joining BAV in 2023. He says that Day was a guru of regulatory compliance and when an opportunity to collaborate with her on a BAV project presented itself he jumped at the chance. That opportunity came in the form of a Northeast Extension Risk Management Education (NERME) grant, supplied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. HVADC was more than happy to submit a letter of commitment for the program to assist in the acquisition of the grant.
“HVADC has been an enthusiastic partner of BAV for years. Their programs have helped many agricultural entrepreneurs reach their goals and their staff is engaged and innovative,” said HVADC Executive Director Todd Erling. “Providing this fast and easy access to expert consultation will give our meat processors the piece of mind they need that they are navigating complex regulations efficiently and effectively.”
The hotline may also become a resource to the numerous meat businesses that have been awarded financial assistance through the new HVADC Meat Processing Expansion Grant Program. On December 4, 2023, The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and HVADC announced that HVADC has awarded $4.25 million to 26 projects in 19 counties across the state. HVADC is administering this state program, which helps processors to expand existing or establish new meat processing facilities. The projects will help the businesses expand their new processing capacity by over 4.8 million pounds annually. The Meat Processing Expansion Grant Program was sponsored by Senator Michelle Hinchey to increase capacity of New York’s processing facilities and support agribusinesses.
Levin says that he, BAV Executive Director Rebecca Busansky and Director of Lending and Finance Shannon Smith see HVADC as a key partner, noting that Erling brought the NERME grant to his attention. BAV and HVADC have collaborated in the past on a number of projects including the financial assistance package for the Raven and Boar processing facility, which opened just recently in East Chatham. As a charcuterie-focused operation there are extremely strict guidelines to follow.
“I’m relatively new to this kind of work,” said Levin, “Over the past two years I’ve seen how important partnerships like ours (BAV and HVADC) lead to the best outcomes.”
The Hotline’s Personal Touch
Meat processing is a growing sector in the Hudson Valley and Berkshire-Taconic regions. New and veteran operations alike need help navigating the maze of health and safety mandates inherent to the system. The AgriForaging hotline provides an expert, human voice to guide them.
“There’s a lot of confusion about regulations and compliance, why you can and can’t do something,” said Levin. “We launched the hotline on October 5. I thought it would take a bit before we started getting calls but we were booked up the very first day.”
Day says that there shouldn’t be an expectation that every entrepreneur need be an expert in the complexity of regulatory compliance. She says for even the most responsible processors, HACCP compliance is anxiety inducing. The stakes are too high to make a single mistake and sometimes you have a question or two. Day and her small staff spend up to an hour with each caller, Thursdays, between 12:00 and 4:00 pm, and provide follow up calls and additional resources.
“I am looking to provide resources so that they can start to trust their own way of finding solutions,” said Day who has also provided BTA to HVADC clients in the past through the Incubator Without Walls Program. “We are early on, so as of now, there is not talk of expansion but personally, I would love to see it grow. I’d love to see it grow into a multi-day offering.”
There is currently no other hotline like this one in the U.S. There is a USDA help desk line, but Day says business owners seem to feel more comfortable talking peer-to-peer. HVADC appreciates having colleagues such as BAV and Agriforgaing when it comes to helping our regional farmers and producers. Committed, inventive partnerships are the key to the growth and vibrancy of our combined food system.
To learn more about the hotline, visit https://www.berkshireagventures.org/haccp-hotline.