February 16- Pineland Farms, New Gloucester
Minutes from the meeting follow:
Maine Cheese Guild Meeting Minutes
16 Feb 2009
Pineland Farms, New Gloucester
Minutes taken by Rocio Corey; transcribed by Eric Rector
Attending: Mark (Pineland Farms), Heidi (Five Islands Farms), Beth (MMDC), Jean (Kennebec Cheesery), Louise Whitefield (Whitefield Farm), Eric (Monroe Cheese Studio), Annd and Bob (Sunset Acres), Rocio Corey, Kim MacDonald, Bob Smith, Mary (Creeping Thyme Farm), Sarah Springs (Springs Farm), Mary and John (Little Falls Farm), Gary (UMO Coop Ext.), Jim Veigh
[Following a tour of Pineland Farms Creamery’s impressive and expanding operation, the group convened in a reception area at 11:30am]
Jim Veigh announced that he is looking for an affineur to help him and partners develop the old jail in Scarborough into a retail food operation.
Wine Guild Update
The new Maine Wine Guild had proposed working together on several projects before our last (Jan) meeting, and the Cheese Guild had agreed to do so. We will be gathering for a joint meeting to do a pairings/tasting of Maine wines and cheeses for joint education, as well as the basis for a possible Pairings brochure that would be available to members of both Guilds. We also plan to work with the Wine Guild on a Wine and Cheese Trail map that would be available ahead of Open Creamery Day in October. Cathe (who couldn’t make it to the meeting) is working with the Wine Guild on these projects and will keep us updated.
–Action Item: The joint meeting for Pairings/Tastings is tentatively scheduled for the week of May 4th on a weekday afternoon/evening. Members should check the web site for a definite date and time.
Jim Veigh asked if the beer makers were involved in the Wine Guild. Eric said that there are wine makers who also brew beer, but that from the list of Wine Guild members currently, it didn’t seem as though there were beer only makers. Eric said that the Wine Guild was interested in eventually turning the Wine and Cheese Map of Maine into an Artisan Food Map of Maine, but this year would focus on Wine and Cheese to get the ball rolling.
Eric said that he intended to meet with Judy Blaisdell at the Dept of Ag to review where the Dept can help the Guild, and funding for this map will definitely be a topic.
ADGA Meeting and Competition
Eric announced that Lisa Reilich from Painted Pepper Farm had offered to transport competition entries to the American Dairy Goat Assoc. conference (October in Wisconsin) competition for other goat cheese makers, and asked that the Guild cover the transportation costs of roughly $700. Eric said Lisa modeled this on the group transport of ACS competition entries to Chicago in 2008 that was organized by the guild, but ultimately paid for by a Dept of Ag grant.
John thought that it wouldn’t be right for the Guild as a whole to subsidize a goat cheese competition. Mary said that their goats weren’t elegible to be included in the ADGA because they had horns, so they wouldn’t be able to participate either. Heidi was concerned about the amount of the cost, especially in light of declining revenue from memberships. Mark also thought the Guild should be financially supporting an effort that couldn’t involve all cheesemaking members.
Eric asked if anyone wanted to speak in favor of the idea; no one did. Anne said that some of the goat cheese makers who would be entering the competition could still organize with Lisa to pay her to transport the cheese at a lower cost than shipping FedEx. Eric said that if Lisa or other Guild members were able to secure a grant for the costs (as with the ACS last year), the Guild could still offer a pass-thru for the grant money to make that happen.
–>Action Item: Eric said he would contact Lisa to say the Guild would not pay for the transport directly.
Jean asked whether there were competitions other than ACS and ADGA that Guild members participated in. Mark said that he had entered the World competition and won awards there.
Eric asked what the Guild members thought our role was regarding licensing. What can/should the Guild do when they are aware of un-licensed cheesemakers selling into the marketplace?
Several in the group mentioned that the State’s licensing group has not been fulfilling it’s responsibilities as of late (since cutting the third inspector and handing off sample pick-ups to another dept), so insisting on all cheese sellers to be licensed wouldn’t necessary guarantee best practices in the current circumstances. Mary and John pointed out that in light of the current State budget deficit, and with one of the inspectors on the verge of retiremenet, the situation is not likely to improve. Mark said to that end that it’s been a long time since he’d even had samples picked up. Others reported the same.
Eric reminded everyone that Cathe Cotton had attended the Jan meeting to announce that the Dept of Ag was cutting back on the lab services offered to dairy processors.
Jean asked what we should be doing with our Legislators about this. Eric mentioned that he had talked to the House Chair of the Leg Ag Committtee (Wendy Peigh) a year ago, communicated the Guild’s point that we want more and better regulation of dairy processing in the state in partnership with the Dept of Ag under the existing Guidelines. Peigh responded that there was no money to increase resources or services, and asked whether the Guild would be willing to raise some of the money to pay for the services (!?) being requested. Eric pointed out that Peigh is a small farmer who raises goats/sheep, so she is aware of what we are asking for and why it’s important — the problem simply comes down to priorities and a lack of overall funds.
Heidi said that the media should be aware of what’s going on. Louise wondered what we would gain from self-regulation. Beth said that the Guild needs to make sure as many people know about the UMO Sanitation workshop in May (May 11th) and attend. Anne lamented that in the past the state inspectors were tough but provided education on best practices and encouraged dairy processors to learn *what* to do as well as how to do it.
Beth brought up the subject of unlicensed cheesemakers selling to restauarants and advertising their products for sale. How should the Guild deal with this? She knows of three cases like this right now. Mark pointed out that his inspector (Audrey) is aware of some of these cases, but she doesn’t have the resources to follow-up with every case and implement measures to stop it. Beth thinks the Guild should post a list of all currently Licensed dairy processors, and encourage consumers and retailers/restaurants to double-check the list when they buy cheese directly from the producer.
Eric said that to begin the education process, the Guild would benefit from having a short statement about *why* it’s important for dairy processors to be licensed, to prominently publish that, and to use it as the basis for all other conversations on this subject. He thought it would be less helpful to try to become a police squad for unlicensed products. Beth agreed that it would be helpful to make this clear at all levels — consumer and retailer.
Heidi wondered if there might be grants available for the Guild to hire a consultant to take over some of the inspection roles, as well as to provide some oversite to unlicensed sales.
Beth said that we don’t want to drift too far away from the state model of regulation becuase the whole process is important: education, oversight, and testing. Jean pointed out, however, that even testing is being cut. Mary wondered how the Guild could pressure the Dept of Ag just to do the job they say they will do. Eric said that this is a message that has been loudly and prominently communicated to legislators and the department in the past, and would continue to be loudly and prominently communicated in the future. But past action does not hold promise.
Beth wondered whether getting the state’s list of licensed processors would be a start. Eric said that he had worked with the Dept of Ag on getting other lists of farms, and it’s always been difficult, and now the ONE person who was in charge of maintaining that data had been laid off, and the State’s work with their own marketing effort — Get Real Get Maine — had been sharply reduced to cut costs. He also pointed out that it’s taken Don Hoenig months to get us the licensed list in the past…and we would have to be careful about mirroring any data so our data was in sync with the Depts data, which is not an insignificant effort. Beth said that she was able to get the list from Cathe Cotton, so that would be a place to start.
Anne said that we should also remind people at Farmers’ Markets of why licensing is important. Eric said that most Farmers’ Markets that he knew required proof of licensing for all members…perhaps the Markets’ needed reminding to do that checking. Bob pointed out that the Restaurant Assoc. should be reminded about this, and all other retail food associations. Jean said that after she heard about an unlicensed sale to a restaurant she approached the chef who knew nothing about the required licensing for cheese.
–>Action Item: Eric said this is a good discusion and it sounded like our first step would need to be to generate a statement the Guild can use for further education efforts. He asked for volunteers who wanted to help put this together: Beth, Mary, Eric, Jean, Anne. After this group develops a draft, it will be sent for comment to the membership as a whole, then ideally voted on adoption at the next (April) meeting.
Eric reported that the current web site had been moved from its previous host to his own web server for now. In the next week or two, the re-designed web site would be launched in its place with all the same information, but it would allow a greater degree of interactivity. All members who register on the site will be able to send information directly to the site. And anyone who registers will be able to post comments on the information contained on the site. He said that as a result of the hosting switch, if anyone had not been able to collect email from a Guild address they would need the new server information to do so. Beth said that she would. Mark said that he had his Guild email forwarded to his own email addresss — Eric said that all forwarding was recreated on the new server.
Mark read an email that had been sent to him with a complaint about weekday Guild meetings being a barrier to her joining the Guild. He used this to illustrate that the Guild needs to get better at advertising the benefits of membership. The group discussed and came up with
–$25 membership fee basically covers cost of postage for newsletter
–networking (and cheese tasting!) at meetings
–discounts on workshops
–sharing info on website
–group purchasing opportunities
In light of the email, the group also discussed what the best day/time for meetings should be. Why Mondays during the day? Someone said that most of the year that’s the only day that a Farmers Market is not held, which is important to many of the licensed cheesemakers. Mark pointed out that the Feb meeting is ALWAYS held on Presidents Day, so members who work during weekdays might be able to make that meeting? Mary (Creeping Thyme) said that it may be true for some workplaces, but she still had to take a vacation day to join this meeting…
Mark moved onto the cost of membership, and he indicated that his company could afford a much higher membership fee, and there might be a few other Guild members who could as well — the ACS has a sliding scale fee, for example. He also said that there should be a non-voting membership level for enthusiasts who want to get the newsletter and maybe attend a meeting or two, but don’t need to plug into the organizational level. He also thought that there should be some kind of sponsor/corporate level that allowed companies that worked with Maine cheese to support the Guild’s work, but also didn’t need to be voting members.
Heidi seconded the idea of a sponsor level, and said “I’m ready to sell this!” because she thought there were a lot of retailers and restaurants who wanted to support the Guild, but not be involved in organizing things. Mark said that, then, it was important for the Guild to describe the benefits of sponsorship before we start asking for money.
Bob said that the problem with the ACS is that it had gotten too big and too commercially oriented.
Eric asked whether voting should be restricted to cheesemakers only? Mark said that he thought that would be a good idea because the Guild was formed by and for cheesemakers, but he knew of other similar organizations that were “taken over” by retailers and suppliers who ended up voting to impose fees on the food producers that only benefitted retail sales. John agreed with Mark that the Guild should work to stay a cheese producer organization. Bob pointed out that we will always need people to sell our cheese, and we need to work with them on lots of similar issues. Heidi said that growing the membership seems to be important, and this would be hard to do if the Guild became exclusionary. But she could see the point of limiting voting if there’s concern about a movement away from focusing on cheese production, and if that were the Guild’s decision she would still support and work for the Guild. Eric said that he could see both sides, but that we shouldn’t ignore the tremendous value Heidi (a retailer) brought to the Guild with her work and good ideas. Heidi pointed out that she also has a vote because she’s a board member — perhaps allowing non-cheese makers (without votes) who become board members would be a legitimate way of recognizing the work of retailers for the benefit of cheese makers?
Eric read from the current Guild By Laws to define the current membership defition:
–Principal Membership (voting)
–Associate Membership (non-voting)
–Honorary Membership (non-voting and non-paying)
Fees for membership are allowed to be set and changed by the board at any time.
In the context of Mark’s proposal, Enthusiasts should join at the Associate level; Professionals at the Principal level. In addition a “Sponsorship Program” could be developed without regard to membership, therefore not requiring a change to the By Laws.
Regarding Cost of Membership:
Heidi thought there needed to be a very low cost level for the Enthusiast…$10? Eric said that that might be too low given that postage and printing alone might be more per member, plus enthusiasts who join should want to contribute something, even if it’s only a few dollars, to the general work of the organization, not just buy a subscription that does little to benefit the organization. He said that $25 seemed a relatively low cost entry that would make sure the Guild wasn’t losing money.
Mark said that the Principal (voting) membership level should rise. Eric asked whether a tiered membership based on sales would be acceptable? Heidi asked how that would be proven and Eric said it would simply be self-reported, but would at least offer larger orgs that can afford it a chance to send more money to the Guild. Heidi said that it still needs to be reasonable for cheesemakers and suggested $50. However, she thought that some benefits of a Principal membership should cost extra for non-cheesemakers. For example, she thought that the web link to her store was worth at least $200 to her business, and she’s a tiny seasonal store. It could be worth much more to larger retailers.
Bob wondered whether we should offer web site advertising as well for additional income? Beth said that the Guild had gotten it’s first paid advertising in the newsletter for the last issue, totally unsolicited. Mark said newsletter ads would look OK, but he feared that web site ads would take away from the message that the Guild is primarily an educational organization. Most others agreed with Mark.
Jim asked whether the newsletter needed to be printed and posted — wouldn’t it save the Guild money to deliver it electronically? Yes, but some members did not have broadband connections, and getting such a large email wouldn’t be acceptable, so they still prefer the printed newsletter. Mark pointed out that others could opt-out of getting the printed newsletter to help save some money. Many people agreed that there should be a way to opt-out.
–>Action Item: Generate a list of membership benefits; circulate to all members for feedback, then post on the web site and include in the membership application.
–>Action Item: Generate membership fee proposal; circulate to all members for feedback; vote on before the next Annual Meeting (when all membership renewals are due).
–>Action Item: Develop a better designed membership piece that can be printed and posted on the web site before Open Creamery Day 2009 with list of benefits and new fees included on it.
–>Action Item: Develop a Sponsorship Program with a specific list of benefits; develop a handout for the program and have them a printed before Open Creamery Day 2009
Maine Micro-Dairy Cooperative
John asked what the MMDC’s relationship was to the Guild; he was concerned about some of the information that the MMCD representatives were giving out at the Ag Trade show because it wasn’t accurate. Beth said that Lauren was new to the MMDC at the time she worked the Trade Show, and was still getting up to speed, and unfortunately she wasn’t as experienced as Keith or Donna (previous employees). She said anyone who was concerned about the information being given out should contact her.
Mark said that the Guild provides fiscal agent services for the MMDC’s grant money, for which the Guild was paid $300. The services were mainly writing checks against the grant money for MMDC expenses covered by the grant. Otherwise, the Guild benefited from the MMDC as a resource for information about becoming a milk supplier, potentially to cheese makers.
Mary asked whether the MMDC paid the Guild for a share of the Ag Trade Show booth? Beth said no, but they would if the Guild thought that was fair. Mary asked why the MMDC was featured on the web site as “***they exist to answer the questions of how to get licensed on a small scale!!!” in red lettering? Eric said that’s because the most frequent questions to the Guild are about how to get started, and the MMDC was supposed to do some of the work of education for the state before the inspectors got involved.
With no other new business, the Guild meeting adjourned to eat cheese at 1:30pm