Marianne had already made up her mind before she came to the first network meeting at Lillehammer:
"I'm going to learn lots!"
An extensive programme
With her colleague Ove Kruke, she joined the other representatives from nine other small-scale meat producers in the counties of Oppland and Hedmark around the table to learn about networking, particularities regarding small-scale food production, public relations and information dissemination as well as hygiene standards and HACCP. Maria Sundal from the agricultural office of the County Governor of Hedmark spoke about activities for small-scale producers in Hedmark and Oppland at this first network meeting, and there was also time for an informal taste panel of the participants' own products.
"I have looked forward to meeting others in the same situation as ourselves. We can learn a lot from other people's experiences. Perhaps we can avoid making some of the most common mistakes," says the new meat producer. She particularly looks forward to learning more about how the others work on product development.
"I can't wait for the next meetings! The first time there's always a lot of chatting, you get to know people and so on. I don't think this first meeting will be the one I will learn the most from," muses Marianne Holen. She knew of some of the companies already, from Farmer's Market (local markets where consumers can buy products directly from farmers), however most of them were unknown.
"I'm looking forward to get to know them better, and I hope that we can keep in touch when the network period ends as well," says Holen.
Different starting points
Tom Chr. Johannessen, meat technologist at Nofima Mat, is the specialist responsible for the network.
"It's quite unique that we've managed to gather so many small meat producers who wish to expand in size or expertise. The fact that we have so many participants with such different starting points is a positive thing for the network," says Johannessen. Some of the companies are pretty much a hobby, while others have a half-dozen employees. Some are just starting up, while others have been in the business for over ten years.
The next meeting will be at Skjåk, when the busy participants can find the time in their diaries between hunting seasons, harvesting and ploughing.
The next steps
The "From small to large" network focuses on process improvements for small-scale meat producers who wish to gain an understanding of which factors may help the company expand.
"The next meetings will focus on hygiene and quality assurance in every step of the process, from raw materials to the finished product. The producers need to know what they are doing. Awareness at every step is the key to success," says Johannessen.
The network ends in the winter of 2010 after four meetings.
The participants in the "From small to large" network gather for their first meeting at Lillehammer.
"Did you like this, Ove?" Marianne Holen of Hafjell Mat questions her colleague Ove Kruke.
"Now what's our opinion on this one?" Ingrid Bakken Nilsen and Stig Roger Nilsen of Rondane Gardsmat taste and take notes.