Although consumer demand for local Maryland artisanal and farmstead cheeses is high, state regulatory hurdles have created significant barriers for this emerging industry. Working with Ginger Myers, agricultural marketing specialist with the University of Maryland Extension, a committed group of farmstead cheese producers and agriculture support specialists teamed up to form the Maryland Cheesemakers' Guild to provide a common voice on regulatory issues as well as provide educational and marketing opportunities to help support the industry’s growth.
With support from a Northeast SARE Partnership grant, the group drew on the experiences from 13 cheesemaker guilds scattered throughout the U.S., keying in on their organizational structures, member activities, and educational resources provided. The team also drew on Maryland’s Brewer and Distiller guilds, focusing on ways these guilds have navigated regulatory issues within the state. The team then designed the membership structure of the guild and a business plan for its operation.
The Guild now has a formal structure, Board of Directors and a statewide membership. The team built marketing materials aimed at both potential members and consumers, and it expanded the Guild website at: www.mdcheese.org. The team also collected data on key issues facing producers and worked with members, partner guilds and affinity groups to promote the Guild and local cheeses through festivals, events and a Maryland cheese contest.
While regulatory hurdles are still being addressed, the Maryland Cheesemakers’ Guild now has the organizational structure and leadership in place for addressing production, regulation, and marketing challenges, and have a plan for raising public awareness of locally produced cheese products.
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