NMPAN Turns 10!

Author: Rebecca Thistlethwaite, NMPAN Program Manager

Publish Date: Fall 2018

“Too often, very small processors feel like they’re alone out here; like no one else understands and lives our challenges. It’s a rough business to make work; it can be a highly stressful business, economically and bureaucracy-wise. NMPAN matters because it shows that together we do have a voice. It shows us that other people are living the same thing.” – farmer/processor

The Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network is celebrating its 10th birthday.

NMPAN is a national network focused on the long-term viability of the small and midsized processors who are essential to the local and regional meat and poultry sectors. By connecting processors, producers, other supply chain actors, and support entities like agencies, NGOs, universities, and funders, NMPAN facilitates peer-to-peer learning, problem solving, and innovative approaches to difficult challenges.

NMPAN was created in 2008 by Lauren Gwin and Arion Thiboumery, to connect people around the country who were struggling with “the processing problem.” At the time, Thiboumery was at Iowa State University, working with small processors, and Gwin had just finished her graduate research at UC Berkeley on barriers to scaling up sustainable meat production.

“Farmers and ranchers all over the country were telling me that processing was their biggest bottleneck in getting meat to market,” Gwin said. “But Arion knew from processors that they didn’t have enough steady business to be profitable, let alone add new space or services.” People were trying to solve this problem in different ways,” she added, “but there was so much wheel reinvention. I’m against that. So we started NMPAN.”

NMPAN is a Cooperative Extension-based network, initially launched at Iowa State University and then moved to Oregon State University in 2009, where it is now housed in the Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems. Gwin is NMPAN Director, and Thiboumery now runs his own processing plant, Vermont Packinghouse.

As part of our 10 year anniversary, NMPAN conducted an extensive evaluation of our impacts to date and the future of our work. We compiled what we learned into a short Executive Summary and a more detailed Full Report. Both are on the NMPAN website at: http://www.nichemeatprocessing.org/ten-years-ofservice https://www.nichemeatprocessing.org/

The primary takeaway from the assessment is that NMPAN has built a successful and useful community. Members and stakeholders feel satisfied and empowered by their participation. They believe the organization has achieved its original goals of building a national community and a developing a respected, robust resource hub. . NMPAN co-founders Arion Thiboumery and Lauren Gwin at a meat processing conference in 2009. Photo provided by NMPAN

“Every time we had a crisis... having NMPAN as a resource is amazing.” – grass-fed beef producer and aggregator

Respondents say relationships and easy access to knowledge are the most valued benefits of the network, and the 1,200-member listserv, website, and webinars are its most used tools.

NMPAN’s biggest challenge, however, is that demand for its services exceeds current capacity. Many members would like to see the organization expand so that it can do more things for more people.

Following up on the results of the evaluation, NMPAN is laying out its goals for the next 10 years which include:

• Continue to be the hub that connects niche meat supply chain, actors

• Provide more peer-reviewed information in a multitude of formats

• Facilitate peer-to-peer learning

• Be a central resource for policy-makers and engage the membership in policymaking

• Continuously evaluate and adapt to stay current

• Provide for the sustainability of the organization

“When we ran our own processing facility NMPAN was totally completely invaluable in terms of learning the ropes getting questions answered and how we should work with FSIS on how to solve common problems. I think it’s fair to say we could not have opened our own processing plant and been successful without it.” –processer and retail butcher.

Learn more about NMPAN and join the conversation: www.nichemeatprocessing.org.