ST. PAUL, Minn. – The COVID-19 pandemic accentuated and exposed a challenge that livestock farmers in Minnesota have been expressing for years – the shortage of slaughter and processing available to small and mid-sized livestock producers.Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU), and the University of Minnesota Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) program are working to address this issue, along with other organizations and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
RSDP and MFU collaborated to create a joint student position dedicated to solving the meat processing bottlenecks. Harshada Karnik, a doctoral candidate in the Applied Economics department at the University of Minnesota, is the second hire to fill the position of meat processing fellow. Karnik has a master’s degree in public policy and applied economics and a background in journalism. Her research interests include rural and community development, local food systems, program / impact evaluation and food and nutrition security. Her doctoral research focused mainly on immigrant, rural and low-income communities.
“My doctoral research focused on community and rural development and food and nutrition security, but I am realizing in a state like Minnesota where small and mid-size family farms dot the landscape, strengthening local food supply chains will contribute directly to the well-being of farm-based households and communities. Besides, I’m also looking forward to a summer of experiential learning and using my research skills to support family farmers in Minnesota.”
“We have a clear mandate from our members to advocate for a better meat processing system,” said Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish. “Harshada’s research interests of local food systems, rural and community development and food security align well with the issues that MFU members support. We welcome her to the team to continue the great work that Eliza Theis started.”
Theis was the first meat processing fellow. She started in February.
“I’m so grateful for MFU and RSDP’s investment in me and in the meat processing industry,” Theis said. “Thank you to everyone I met along the way; it’s been a pleasure working with you.”
Karnik’s duties will include managing a meat processing working group, working with stakeholders to build upon the existing body of research and investigating further how challenges such as few marketplaces, inadequate skilled labor and transportation costs contribute to the meat processing bottlenecks. She will also contribute to efforts across the state to address these bottlenecks particularly for small- and medium-sized livestock farmers, small-scale meat processing units and diverse groups such as halal and tribal farmers.
“Having the farmer-based advocacy of MFU combined with the research and outreach expertise of our land-grant University is a powerful collaboration to make real progress in reducing the bottleneck in access to meat processing for farmers in our state,” said Kathryn Draeger, statewide director, Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships at University of Minnesota Extension. “We are grateful to be working together and seeding the next generation of leaders by engaging graduate students in this effort.”
Karnik grew up in Mumbai, India, but after living in the state for 10 years considers herself at home in Minnesota. Her doctoral research gave her opportunity to interact and work with communities all over the Midwest especially the Somali community in Greater Minnesota. Her current portfolio includes projects to make locally grown produce available in ethnic grocery stores, evaluation of nutrition interventions in rural grocery stores, and exploring the role of food pantries in food deserts. When she is not working in her office in Saint Paul or driving across the plains for fieldwork, she likes to cook, take photographs and write poetry.
Karnik can be reached at email@example.com.
— Minnesota Farmers Union
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