University of Central Missouri: Missouri Food Entrepreneur Network Meeting Hosted by UCM

While Missouri continues to be a significant contributor to efforts to help feed the world, a group of individuals who met on the University of Central Missouri campus are looking for ways to create new opportunities for the sale and production of the state’s agriculture products.

The university on May 19 hosted the Missouri Food Entrepreneur Network (MO-FEN) Steering Committee for the first time since the organization’s inception in 2019. MO-FEN is an arm of the Show Me Food, Beverage and Forest Product Manufacturing Initiative that is designed to advance new food processing and manufacturing projects in Missouri. Among the group’s membership are representatives of the United States Department of Agriculture, Missouri Department of Agriculture, Missouri Department of Economic Development, University of Missouri and Lincoln University Extension, and representatives of four-year high education institutions and community colleges throughout the state.

“This was an effort that the Lieutenant Governor, Missouri Department of Agriculture and University of Missouri initiated with Missouri agricultural organizations to say, ‘looking ahead what recommendations can we put forth or what are the opportunities that are out there for producers of the state of Missouri to expand what they are doing?’ Perhaps they will not only look at growing their own businesses, but look at whether or not there are there new products they would like to develop and market, or are there people in other states that might be interested in coming to Missouri with their production,” said Dan Cassidy, MO-FEN project assistant who led the meeting.

He commented on some examples of topics that the group discussed during the meeting, noting, “We had a great presentation today from the Jefferson County Port Authority about looking at containerized vessels.”

One of the individuals leading the Port Authority project spoke online about opportunities to utilize smaller refrigerated transport vehicles to move agricultural products along major rivers as an alternative to large barges, which are much slower and costly.

“They are looking at possibly the last quarter of 2024 for opportunities to make it more economical to bring containers into Missouri and ship from Missouri on not only the Mississippi River but also the tributaries that feed into the Mississippi. This would make it more economical to export things, but also to input ingredients and other things to encourage food processing and food manufacturing.”

The group also discussed topics related to cold storage, expanded use of commercial kitchens across the state, co-packing/bottling opportunities, and other matters.

UCM members who participated in the event included Roger Best, university president; Phil Bridgmon, provost and vice president for academic affairs; Jeff Robertson, dean of the College of Health, Science and Technology; Sarah Craig director of the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research; Travis Hume, director of University Farms; Michelle Santiago, chair of the Department of Agriculture (online); agriculture faculty members Kyle Lovercamp and Mark Goodwin; David Pearce, executive director for Governmental Relations; and Brandon Nevils, UCM farm manager.

Also joining MO-FEN for the meeting was 2002 UCM alumnus Kyle Wilkens, state director, United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development. He was appointed to the group Dec. 13, 2021. Having also worked for Congressmen Ike Skelton and Emmanuel Cleaver previously, he appreciates the opportunity to help the group pursue its vision in areas such as food and processing.

“I think it’s important to be a part of the group,” the history and political science graduate from Lafayette County said. “At some point, if RD (Rural Development) can be helpful, we want to be.”

Best, who welcomed the group with Bridgmon, said, “We really appreciate everyone being here, and we’re thankful to be a part of this network and the mission behind it.”

He said it was important for UCM to serve as a resource for communities and to be a network for entrepreneurs who could utilize the university’s resources.

“Our ability to come in as universities, government and other types of agencies to provide that support is critical to the state of Missouri and we’re certainly very happy to be a part of this network. We want to provide the resources we can for this region whether it’s through our agriculture program quality, our UCM farms and the plans we have for them, or just as a university that provides full-scale offerings from entrepreneurship to finance, all the way into the ag program and agribusiness.”

Hume, who thanked the group for choosing UCM as a location for the meeting, also served as a tour guide for several MO-FEN members who visited UCM Farms. Several of these individuals posed with the university’s live Mule mascot.

Cassidy commended UCM members who helped make the meeting possible, noting, “UCM was a great host today – wonderful facilities. I will tell you that the delegation that represents the University of Central Missouri on this project does an excellent job, and it’s been a great opportunity to work with them.”

Pearce praised the efforts of Cassidy and others who are part of MO-FEN, noting, “We were thrilled to host this important group to UCM. They are making a difference in the lives of Missourians by working together. This will reap big dividends for our Agriculture Department and our students.’