Massachusetts Food System Collaborative
Massachusetts Food System Collaborative

Processing: Goal 3

Business and workforce development will meet the needs of the growing food processing industry.

The food processing industry, which includes manufacturing of food and beverages, represents about 3.6 percent of all businesses and seven percent of all jobs in the Massachusetts food system.[1] Food manufacturing businesses and jobs have grown steadily as a percentage of the State food system. The majority of jobs in the food processing sector are held by frontline workers, who are low-wage, receive limited benefits, and are exposed to health and safety issues in the work environment. There are only limited opportunities for employees to rise to supervisory and management roles. Unionization in food processing affords employees somewhat higher wages, full-time employment, and better working conditions than in other sectors of the food system.[2]

Efforts by Massachusetts non-profits, vocational schools, and higher education to foster culinary workforce training and entrepreneurship help more people access opportunities at higher-wage, skilled positions in the food processing sector. For example, North Shore Community College offers an Agriculture and Food Service program for students interested in a range of food related professional fields. Haley House in Roxbury engages men who have transitioned out of the prison system in café management and culinary training in their urban café. Community Servings in Jamaica Plain trains individuals interested in food service careers. Both Haley House and Community Servings work with individuals who are underemployed or face barriers to employment. An increasing number of shared-use rental commercial kitchens are also supporting entrepreneurship in food processing. These efforts and a range of additional strategies, including supporting on-the-job training, and identifying promising growth subsectors, like micro-brewing and distilling, will help the Massachusetts local food processing sector to grow jobs and businesses that support workers and entrepreneurs.

Recommendation 3.1: Ensure stable and safe employment in the food processing sector, with opportunities for advancement.

Action 3.1.1: Ensure living wages in food processing and related industries.

Action 3.1.2: Ensure resources, training, and placement for food processing workers, in particular for women, people of color, immigrants, veterans, former prisoners, and others from traditionally disadvantaged communities.

Action 3.1.3: Develop a shared labor pool, comprised of workers trained in food processing or related fields. Do this by inventorying types of jobs and required skills, and developing a method for matching qualified workers to a range of jobs in food processing or related fields. Establish standards for, full-time, year-round, benefitted, and fairly compensated jobs in the shared labor pool.

Action 3.1.4: Support worker voice and collective bargaining for food system and related workers through legislation and regulation.

Action 3.1.5: Target financial and technical assistance to food processing businesses that offer opportunities for year-round employment.

Recommendation 3.2: Support enterprise development and growth for food processing businesses.

Action 3.2.1: Maintain, update, and expand as necessary the Massachusetts Food Processors Resource Manual, published by MDAR.

Action 3.2.2: Provide food processing entrepreneurs with technical assistance, financing resources, and business plan support in the startup phase, prioritizing businesses that use Massachusetts agricultural or seafood products as primary ingredients.

Action 3.2.3: Promote and leverage USDA grants and services, and provide technical assistance for grant applications and meeting program requirements.

Action 3.2.4: Establish and expand private investment options for those interested in supporting local food businesses.

Action 3.2.5: Invest in food processing businesses in growing industries.

Action 3.2.6: Foster increased local food product innovation and development in technical and vocational education settings, engaging with food processing businesses and institutions.

Action 3.2.7: Target resources to people of color, immigrants, former prisoners, veterans, women, and others from traditionally disadvantaged groups interested in owning and operating a food processing business.

Action 3.2.8: Establish and expand ingredient and product procurement forums and resources for farmers and food processors.

Action 3.2.9: Assess the market feasibility for meat processing, dairy processing, and other value-added food production, and support business development as the State and New England markets demand.

Action 3.2.10: Develop employment guidelines for businesses, and offer incentives for businesses implementing these guidelines.

Recommendation 3.3: Ensure that the food processing workforce is trained, skilled, and positioned to meet the changing needs of the State’s food system.

Action 3.3.1: Inventory skills needed for various jobs and offer on-the-job and formal training in these areas.

Action 3.3.2: Train new and incumbent employees for work in the culinary arts, and other food system related jobs through agricultural, vocational, temporary employment agency and nonprofit training programs, on-the-job training, and on-site employer-sponsored ESOL education.

Action 3.3.3: Engage community colleges, regional employment boards, community development agencies, and other such entities to encourage the development of food processing workforce training programs.

Action 3.3.4: Identify industries in decline and develop employment transition training  in food processing for displaced workers or workers in declining industries.

Action 3.3.5: Incentivize participation in training programs to encourage their use.

Action 3.3.6: Develop career pathways in partnership with food processing and other food businesses to support employee development.

Action 3.3.7: Provide technical assistance to operators and staff of meat processing facilities.

Recommendation 3.4: Grow scale-appropriate food processing equipment manufacturing in Massachusetts.

Action 3.4.1: Build partnerships between food processing businesses and educational institutions, such as engineering departments to design and develop intermediate-scale food processing equipment.

Action 3.4.2: Encourage local manufacturing of equipment and technology that meet the needs of small and mid-sized processing facilities.

Action 3.4.3: Support collaborative design of intermediate-scale food processing equipment that includes food processing professionals, designers, engineers, and manufacturers.

Action 3.4.4: Develop models for cooperative use of food processing equipment by farmers, fishermen, specialty food producers, and other food processors.

Recommendation 3.5: Develop opportunities for maximizing use of food processing facilities.

Action 3.5.1: Inventory food processing facilities in Massachusetts, and use the inventory to create a map that identifies facility age, condition, state of use, state of business growth, available capacity, and need for upgrades, and need for new facilities.

Action 3.5.2: Promote year-round use of processing facilities.

Action 3.5.3: Develop opportunities for processing and preserving surplus produce that may otherwise be wasted.

[1] MA EOLWD. (2014). ES-202 Employment and Wages Data, US Census, USDA Census of Agriculture data.

[2] Alliance, F. C. W. (2012). The hands that feeds us: Challenges and opportunities for workers along the food chain. Accessed November 2015 from

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Massachusetts Food System Collaborative