One method that farmers on small, traditional farms have used to increase sustainability is to add value to agricultural products in order to reduce the number of intermediaries, therefore keeping a greater percentage of the food dollar on the farm. By developing products that are more consumer-ready, “the barnyard and the family table are moved closer together.” However, this process requires that farmers have access to the right type of food manufacturing equipment and guidance in creating and marketing a specialty food item.
The list of food products that may be made legally in a home kitchen in Pennsylvania is limited primarily to baked goods, herbal mixtures and high-acid canned products. Beyond those “not potentially hazardous foods,” most foods must be made in a commercial kitchen. To set up a commercial kitchen for a food product that does not have an established market presence is in most cases costly and unwarranted. Becoming a tenant in a share-use commercial kitchen limits the amount of financing required for buy-in, and is therefore a much more cost effective option.
Not all agricultural producers have the time, skill or desire to make a value-added product from their commodities. These farmers would, however, benefit greatly from having access to a facility where cheese can be made from their milk, or jam from their berries.
Entrepreneurial skill goes beyond simply creating a value-added product – specialty food items may often need a strategic marketing campaign to be successful in the marketplace – and this requirement points to the need for farmers to receive the education and support to successfully create, package and sell safe value-added food items according to the desires and needs of the consumer.
Community-based shared kitchen incubators supply access to commercial equipment, as well as the services of individuals with food production and business management expertise. Working with a shared kitchen ensures that time and funding invested by the farmer has the greatest impact. Traditional shared kitchen incubators (including two that opened their doors in PA during 2006/07) have not targeted agricultural producers – they have aimed more toward food entrepreneurs who were interested in making gourmet foods or launching catering businesses. This leaves untapped the potential for those who are producing the basic produce, dairy, and meat items to convert their commodities into value-added products.
To assist farmer/grower groups in exploring the potential of a shared-kitchen incubator for adding value, they must be provided the following types of information: (1) how to gauge the feasibility of setting up a shared kitchen in their community, (2) best management practices (BMPs) that long-lived shared kitchens in neighboring states have adopted for sustainability, and (3) the steps to be taken to create a shared kitchen (operational, managerial and fiscal). After being made aware of the potential of a community shared kitchen, farmer/growers who wish to pursue the idea in their community need continued support in developing a plan, seeking initial funding, and setting up the physical operations to bring the idea to fruition.
This project was successful in guiding several farmer/grower groups toward exploring the feasibility of setting up a shared kitchen in their community – and the launching of four extensive facility explorations – in Mercer, Centre, McKean, and Lackawanna Counties. Two additional shared kitchen efforts were launched, outside of the Appalachian region (Lancaster and Philadelphia). Success was also marked in certain communities in which farmers determined that a shared commercial kitchen would not be the appropriate strategy for value-added production. An extensive study done by the Food Matrix group of Tioga, Potter, and McKean Counties resulted in the realization that one shared kitchen, regardless of where it was sited, would not be truly accessible to all would-be tenants.
At several different locations in the state, agricultural producers who learned that USDA-regulated foods such as dairy or meat products with shelf-life were required to be separated by “time and space” from any other production realized the limitations of a shared kitchen. This secondary outcome is considered a success because of the time and money that was saved by the farmers having a full understanding of the difficulties of sharing a kitchen with products that, by law, must be made by a single producer in the facility at any time – often with regulatory oversight – and the dangers of cross contamination when aging or storage units are shared by numerous producers.
Contact farmer groups and potential food entrepreneurs who have already expressed interest in opening a shared kitchen facility and arrange an initial meeting with their members to ensure members understand about the shared kitchen concept.
Lead a group discussion to enable participants to voice their level of commitment to proceeding with a feasibility study for their community.
Assist the community in forming a vision for the type of shared kitchen that would be most desired.
Arrange a statewide series of public meetings in communities who are ready to begin determining feasibility of a shared-kitchen’s success in their locale. At these meetings, a nationally-recognized shared kitchen authority will provide an overview of the requirements for successful start-up and management for shared-kitchen incubators. At each locale, a core group will receive direction in how to move forward with a feasibility study and start-up business plan.
Remain in contact with the group while a plan is developed to maintain momentum and to identify opportunities for the group to apply their plan to grant opportunities for initial start-up capital.
The success of the project will not be exclusively measured by the start-up of a kitchen. There are some communities that do not have the infrastructure or support for this idea to be feasible; therefore, completion of any number of the above milestones, which progressively enable the group to make an informed decision, will be considered a positive result.
In addition to observation of benchmarks, the team will assist the local core group in surveying all participants at specific points in the process:
After the initial meetings take place to assess the level of learning about the shared kitchen concept and comfort level of each farmer in pursuing a shared kitchen, based on what he or she has learned.
After communities meet with the expert to gain a consensus on whether the project will continue or terminate.
In those locations where the process moves forward, impacts would include:
The creation of a plan
The group’s use of the plan to access grant funding for start-up costs
The creation of kitchen policies and procedures
The actual start-up of a kitchen
The PA Keystone Kitchens Project had as its goal to evaluate the feasibility of establishing one or more Shared Kitchen/Incubators in rural Pennsylvania to create a greater linkage between PA agricultural production and food processing.
When the project was initiated, there were no shared kitchen/incubators in Pennsylvania where farmers could add value to their agricultural commodities. By conducting evaluations of existing shared kitchen facilities in other states, the Keystone Kitchens team proposed to determine the attributes and best management practices that led to their longevity, and to bring those ideas back to Pennsylvania. In our own state, the team conducted community surveys to develop inventories of business service providers who would be able to add value to start-up shared kitchens, and to educate potential tenants about the shared kitchen/incubator concept.
The information gathered while visiting existing shared kitchens, as well as the results of the community surveys, were shared with stakeholders at a series of community meetings in Philadelphia, York, Wilkes-Barre, Republic, Mercer and Coudersport.
With the support of the NE SARE Appalachian Initiative Grant, the Penn State Team was able to contact with twenty one community groups who subsequently explored ways to take agricultural products (both dedicated and surplus) and add value to them in a shared kitchen incubator. Six of these groups pursued the concept at least into the feasibility study stage and as of May 2009, three facilities had begun to accept tenants.
The first of the SARE grant activities was a series of grassroots informational and visioning sessions, from September 10th to 15th, 2007.
Locations for this series of meetings were selected based on previous requests for information from local core groups that expressed more than casual interest in shared kitchen incubators – in addition to being strategically placed so that residents across Pennsylvania could travel to a session with two hours or less traveled.
The meetings were facilitated by the Penn State team and supported by nationally recognized authority on shared kitchen development, Dr. Cameron Wold. These meetings were held in Philadelphia, York, Wilkes-Barre, Republic, Mercer and Coudersport.
All open community meetings had non-farming, economic development professionals, and community residents, as well as agricultural producers, in attendance. Each session started out with a standard shared kitchen overview delivered by Dr. Larry Grunden (Pennsylvania Technology Assistance Program (PENNTAP), Winifred McGee (extension educator) and Alan McConnell (PENNTAP) who form the Penn State Team, followed by a detailed presentation on potential and assessing feasibility of shared kitchens by Dr. Wold.
For the purposes of this report, Philadelphia and York outcomes/impacts will not be included (although farmers did participate in the York meeting and the resulting shared kitchen that is being explored is planned for the Central Farmers Market in the city of York). The attendance in the meeting series within the Appalachian Region was as follows:
September 12th Wilkes-Barre Session had 48 attendees (25M/23F)– 12 of whom were farmers.
September 13th Republic Session had 12 attendees (6M/6F) – 3 of whom were farmers.
September 14th Mercer Session had 45 attendees (27M/18F) – 21 of whom were farmers.
September 15th Food Matrix (Coudersport) Session had 15 attendees (7M/8F) – 3 of whom were farmers.
The remaining SARE grant activities were follow-up contacts and meetings with community groups to assess level of learning and determine who wished to learn more about, or pursue feasibility studies for, shared kitchens.
Farmers came to the Wilkes-Barre, Republic and Mercer meetings expressing an interest in milk product, largely because it is extremely expensive to set up a cheese, yogurt, jug milk or ice cream operation on a single farm without already having tested this product in the marketplace, to justify spending money or going into debt. USDA standards and the potential for cross-contamination when multiple producers use the same kitchen (because of frequent use of raw milk) were factors that seem to significantly impede the creation of a shared-kitchen operation for this use. Dr. Wold encouraged the producers to form a cooperative that would jointly own and operate the kitchen to overcome the complications of multiple operators accessing the same facility. The alternative would be to mirror the Morrisville, NY, shared dairy operation, in which all milk that is received is immediately pasteurized upon entering the facility and then made into value-added products by the individual farmer.
A second major interest among farmer participants was in creating meat products, because of a marked decrease in small-scale butchering facilities in rural communities. This type of product was mentioned in Wilkes-Barre (freezer beef), Mercer (pork products), and Coudersport (freezer beef). As with milk item production, the creation of meat products with a shelf life affects economical shared kitchen use, since USDA regulations require that the individual processing meat can be the only person using the kitchen during that work period. If a theoretical kitchen requires $140 per hour to operate, four producers with non-USDA regulated products could pay $35 each, or a farmer processing meat could shoulder the whole bill. At that rate, fewer meat producers would be interested in a shared-kitchen for their processing.
Additional farmers attending the meetings wanted to produce and process mushrooms, freeze corn, and process other farm produce for off-season sales to restaurants. They also wanted to process certified organic meats and vegetables and make pies and cakes. Because of the proximity of Mercer to Erie/NY, that group addressed wine making in a shared facility (although wine, like cheese, must age; there is a challenge of cross-contamination of product in a shared facility). At Coudersport, a local farmer who produces maple syrup and related items discussed his interest in a shared kitchen because it would provide him with a larger space to make candy and bottle syrup products. Many of these products were suitable for shared-kitchen production, but the unanswered question without a feasibility study was whether there would be an adequate number of prospective tenants at any location to make having a shared-kitchen incubator able to cash-flow effectively.
As a direct result of the meetings, several of the community groups requested support in creating and conducting a feasibility study. Proposals were provided by the Team to the interested groups about the scope of work that would be done and the cost of that work (since the needs were more in line of a consultant, rather than education and empowerment of the local folks). The Team identified likely sources of grant funding and assisted in group meetings to prepare proposals, but no funding was identified at any site that could pay for consultant-level support. Therefore, most of the 2008 activities in relation to the SARE initiative were to facilitate meetings, to add clarity to the concept of a shared kitchen, and to introduce the Best Management Practices that the Team had developed from their 2005/06/07 research.
In detail, the following actions took place in 2008/2009:
PSU Team support in Republic (Foodservice Rentals) was to provide repeat orientation to the shared kitchen concept to a series of managers, and recruitment of potential tenants. This kitchen struggles with little community feasibility analysis before its initiation and the absence of one constant “cheerleader” with the vision to take it forward from inception (both aspects that the Team’s research showed as being essential to kitchen sustainability). In May, a member of the Team assisted in an evaluation of the concept of diversifying kitchen use to include meals on wheels preparation with tenant usage (as a sustainability measure). In July and August, one of their tenants was assisted by the team in evaluating the use of a co-packer for expanded production. In October, the Fay-Penn EDC proposed to rejuvenate the share kitchen concept; a Team member spoke at length to their representative, answering questions about management and priorities for sustainability and they were sent guidance on shared kitchen management and the BMP document. In November, the kitchen combined with Lutheran Service Society (to begin Meals on Wheels activity in addition to being a shared kitchen); the Team provided guidance to the new management on shared kitchen management and the BMP document. Throughout the term of this grant, the Team continued to provide support – including arranging to have their shared kitchen listed on the NECFE and PA Food Ventures web sites.
Support to the Mercer Co. Munnell Run Farm Kitchen Interest Team included continued work with Mr. James Mondok (Mercer Co. Conservation District) and Mr. Wes Ramsey (Penn Soil RC&D) who were spearheading the idea of utilizing a vacant building on the Munnell Run Farm as a shared community kitchen. In January the steering committee (farm and non-farm members) formed in December began having regularly scheduled meetings to develop a business plan, create a name, and find funding to support a feasibility study that includes a marketing study, management and operations plan, finance plan, marketing plan. The group created a name (Munnell Run Farms Regional Food Venture [MRFRFV]). As they discussed how to move forward with a feasibility study the Team orchestrated a conference call (in March) with shared kitchen expert Cameron Wold (regarding his feasibility study proposal) and a meeting with Leslie Schaller (ACEnet) and Rich Stull (Foodservice Rentals) regarding their kitchen experiences. The Team also assisted the committee in preparing RFPs for PA DCED First Industries Planning Grant, Ag Marketing Service Grant, and USDA RBOG. Monthly meetings were supported by telephone by Team members. Sample user surveys and results from past state level surveys conducted by the Team were shared with this group. In June, the group learned that they had not been successful in securing PA DCED funding; however, in October they were successful in receiving a $50,000 planning grant – they elected to contract with Russell Combs, Executive Director of the Erie Technology Incubator (former colleague of Cameron Wold) to guide them through a feasibility study for this potential kitchen. The Team’s guidance throughout this period was instrumental to their receiving the funding that enables them to move forward. More recently the Team assisted MRFRFV in designing an interest survey that MRFRV/Gannon University SBDC are distributing.
The co-owner of Black Berry Meadows, Natrona Heights, Allegheny Co. requested shared-use kitchen information, for possible expansion of the 85-acre organic production enterprise; information the Team provided supported his proposal for PA DCED funding from a First Industries Agricultural Planning Grant. He was supplied with “Establishing a Shared-Use Commercial Kitchen Incubator© report. Team members reviewed and provided comment for his DCED proposal which received funding. Additional information (i. e. facility licensing, required food safety training, and appropriate shared kitchen equipment was shared with consultants who were hired by Black Berry Meadows.
The rural community group affiliated with Old Gregg School Community Center, Spring Mills, Centre Co., first contacted the Team and has received support since January 2007. This community kitchen was inspected in April 2008 and five people were licensed to use the facility, with the first tenant coming on-board April 7. In April, the group was provided sample kitchen management forms, “Food for Profit” workshop information, new PA Food Ventures web link, and “Establishing a Shared-use Commercial Kitchen Incubator Workshop© report.
In the Spring, the PSU Team met with the McKean County Biodynamics, Inc., Bradford, McKean Co., community group which included economic development personnel, a caterer/kitchen advisor, building owner, and a retired teacher to tour a 3200sq ft kitchen in a KOZ. They were provided with an overview of the shared kitchen project, sample kitchen operating forms, and other start-up information. Late summer, more assistance was requested from the Team, and a visit was made in October to review future kitchen modifications and general placement of extra equipment that was currently stored off-site – also reviewed kitchen business plan items, including policies and procedures, client check-in list, use of a rate schedule and tenant contracts.
The Carbondale Technology Transfer Center, Carbondale, Lackawanna Co.’s interest in shared kitchens grew out of Team contact in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, including the 2007 tour. In May 2008, the Team provided information for a local news article promoting their shared kitchen opening, and in June we provided feedback about a promotional flyer they were developing. In July, a Team member supported the Scranton SBDC’s Building Your Food Business workshop as a way to recruit tenants for the CTTC shared kitchen; the presentation included an overview of shared kitchens that was delivered jointly by a Team member and the director of the CTTC. In August, the Team assisted the director in setting tenant rates for the shared kitchen. Throughout the term of this grant, the Team continued to supply support – providing a contact for USDA as the first step in their applying for a grant, getting their shared kitchen listed on the NECFE and PA Food Ventures web sites, and providing technical assistance to new kitchen clients.
The Founding Director of “In His Hands Ministries,” Clymer, Indiana Co, (a non-profit group which has a goal of providing convenient and reasonably priced healthy foods) requested information about the shared kitchen concept. A PSU Team member met with 10 people from the community at the Penn Run Church of the Brethren, telling them about the state feasibility study and considerations needed to set up a shared kitchen, in September.
Collaborating with the County Economic Development Corporation, the Team was provided the opportunity, in October, to be featured on a web-based video describing shared kitchen incubators, the Keystone Kitchens project, and plans that the local group has for opening a shared kitchen in the York Central Farmers Market, York Co., to provide greater opportunities for value-added agricultural products. The video, produced in November 2008, can be seen at http://www.senatorwaugh.com/multimedia-2008.htm.
On referral from the PDA Bureau of Food Safety, in August, the Team provided basic information about shared-use kitchens to the director of the Clarion County Farmers Market, Clarion Co Farmers’ Market and a State Representative to her district. Follow-up in November showed that this group will be ready in the future to pursue the shared kitchen idea.
A group of farmers from Liberty, Tioga County, received information from the PSU Team about setting up a shared kitchen in concert with the farmers’ market, for vendors to use to make baked goods, jams, etc. While these items could be made legally in a farm kitchen, most of the families had pets, which they did not want to have to remove from their homes – this group was provided with standard shared kitchen information and referred to the Scranton SBDC’s Ag Business Support.
Information on what a shared kitchen is, how to start one, and how to use one was presented to a group of vegetable growers in Warren County. The presentation was part of a one-day income opportunities workshop organized by Penn State Extension.
The Team met with Food Matrix CSA representatives and the Charles Cole Memorial Hospital in Coudersport to explore the possibilities of shared community kitchen managed between the two entities. Both groups pledged to continue exploration of this vision.
Additional clients outside the ARC region have been assisted by the Penn State Team; all of these community groups incorporated the idea of offering shared kitchen access to farmers, as well as other food entrepreneurs:
Greensgrow Farm, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Co. – an experimental farm and non-profit working on a variety of issues relative to urban foods, and creating connection with their rural growing neighbors. The group’s Founder and Director expressed an interest in developing a commercial kitchen incubator in their Kensington neighborhood that would allow them to create value added foods for their Farm Market and CSA and assist others who might want to try food processing. A Team member provided an overview of shared kitchen incubators at a meeting at the Office of Food Protection in February; although there was initial interest, this group did not move forward.
Eleventh Street Project, Ashville, Cambria Co. – Mr. Dan Garrison contacted the Team with an interest in developing a shared kitchen in a community building in the Altoona area. He was provided with the Kitchen Team brochure, a link to Foodservice Rentals, and the PA Keystone Kitchens Incubator Feasibility Study – Establishing a Shared-Use Commercial Kitchen Incubator Workshop© Report. No further action was taken by this group.
Lancaster County Career and Technology Center, Mount Joy, Lancaster Co.—The Team met with Michael Curley (Executive Director, Lancaster County Career and Technology Center [LCCTC]) and Mr. Gary Willier (Ag Services Manager, The Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry) in addition to a group of interested service providers, such as SCORE, SBDC, Extension, etc. to pursue development of a shared-use kitchen facility at the LCCTC Mount Joy campus. LCCTC currently offers a foodservice and hospitality curriculum at this location. In February, Dr. Curley suggested and the group agreed that they were ready to put a plan together to open the CTC facility this summer to the community! A week after this declaration, PSU Team members met with Dr. Curley and went over a shared kitchen incubator plan that the Team had authored, as well as more operational documents to use in setting up the management structure for the kitchen. He was pleased with the plan and emphasized that this would be a limited trial this summer. In the summer, as a part of the larger initiative in Lancaster County to build agricultural sustainability, the Team met with the other service providers and several farmers who are interested in using the shared kitchen for meat and dairy products. The ability to “share” the kitchen would be greatly compromised by USDA regulations that require time and space to separate production of these products from all other food items. In September the group hired a coordinator for the project; he was assisted by the Team in learning the shared kitchen concept and by being provided introduction to personnel at ACENET and the Vermont Food Ventures. The first tenant (an ethnic caterer) signed on at the kitchen in December 2008.
Bill Welch, Erie Co. – Contacted the team for shared-kitchen information related to grape growers in Pennsylvania and New York; he was provided with basic overview information for shared kitchens and told about opportunities to link with McKean County Biodynamics and/or Foodservice Rentals.
Arnold Chamber of Commerce, SW Pennsylvania – Jean Lombardo, staff member at the chamber, was provided with basic information about shared-use kitchens and links to Foodservice Rentals.
Produce Farmer, Emmaus, PA – A farmer who grows produce in high tunnels to sell in Philadelphia currently adds value by cutting, washing, mixing and bagging his greens for salad. He desired to develop a line of salad dressings to complement his salad fixings. Because of the lack of a shared kitchen in his area, guidance was provided (in October) about how to make use of a firehouse kitchen in his neighborhood. He was directed to the PSU PA Food Ventures and food Safety/Entrepreneur web sites.
Chambersburg, Franklin Co. – In summer 2008, a farmers market was set up at the off-track betting establishment in Chambersburg; the manager of this market contacted the Team with questions about setting up a shared kitchen for the farmers to use to make value-added products to sell to the customers. Liability issues and tenant fees seemed to be impediments to this idea moving forward; the Team offered to provide a community presentation on shared kitchens (to date, has not happened).
Harrisburg, Dauphin Co. – A representative from the Allison Hill section of the city contacted the Team regarding an interest in the shared-use kitchen concept as an economic development opportunity for the city of Harrisburg. The Team provided reports from the PA Keystone Kitchens Incubator Feasibility Study and contact information for the kitchens that are operating and kitchens that are currently organizing around the Commonwealth.
NW Maryland; University of Maryland Cooperative Extension – A PSU Team Member communicated by telephone conference with three University of Maryland Extension personnel, providing advice related to a project to set up a shared kitchen in the Maryland “panhandle” for agricultural producers. Since the vision for this facility was to be one for processing of meat products with shelf life, the group was referred to Mountain Bounty Kitchen in West Virginia – since this facility has a separate USDA room. Additional printed materials were sent electronically to all call participants.
Minnesota non-profit – Per request was provided with basic information about shared-use kitchens and contact information for the kitchens that are operating and kitchens that are currently organizing around the Commonwealth.
The Enterprise Center, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Co. – The Team reviewed and commented on the latest conceptual site plan for the Center for Culinary Enterprises, e-mailed a copy of the Team’s third report (“Shared Kitchens-Best Management Practices”) and a list of operating PA shared-use kitchens known to the Team.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
Publications created by the Keystone Kitchens Team were:
PA Keystone Kitchens Incubator Feasibility Study — Statewide Survey Report
Grunden,L.P., McConnell,A.L. and McGee,W.W.
Prepared for Commonwealth Financing Authority/PA Department of Community and Economic Development
PA Keystone Kitchens Incubator Feasibility Study — Establishing a Shared-Use Commercial Kitchen Incubator Workshop (a guide)
Grunden,L.P., McConnell,A.L. and McGee,W.W.
Prepared for the Commonwealth Financing Authority/PA Department of community and Economic Development
PA Keystone Kitchens Incubator Feasibility Study — Shared Kitchen Best Management Practices
Grunden,L.P., McConnell,A.L. and McGee,W.W.
April 30, 2008
Prepared for the PA Department of community and Economic Development
Copies of the guide and best management practices are available upon request — in print or electronically
With the support of the NE SARE Appalachian Initiative Grant, the Penn State Team has, as described above, made contact with twenty one community groups who were exploring ways to take agricultural products (both dedicated and surplus) and add value to them in a shared kitchen incubator. A number of these groups had farmers as part of the core group, ensuring that purpose of adding value to agricultural commodities would not be forgotten as a key reason for share-kitchen establishment.
The funding supplied by the Pennsylvania First Industries program and NE SARE supported the original series of grassroots informational and visioning sessions, as well as allowing the team members to do follow-up meetings with community groups who wished to learn more about, or pursue feasibility studies for, shared kitchens.
A guide, “Establishing a Shared-use Commercial Kitchen Incubator Workshop©,” was created to describe the concept of a shared-kitchen, describe the sources of start-up and working capital, identify the traits and strategies of successful kitchen incubators, and provide basic guidance for a start-up plan including the three-year pro forma operating budget. This guide is available both in hard copy and PDF to be used by interested groups of farmers and community leaders.
In addition to the Republic, PA, shared kitchen incubator that opened in 2006, the following facilities moved forward in the process of developing shared kitchens as a result of the information and support provided to specific grassroots groups:
The Kitchen Incubator at CTTC, Paul Browne, Carbondale (Lackawanna County) – May 2008
Old Gregg School Community Center, Robin Bastress, Spring Mills (Centre County) – Early 2008
Lancaster Edibles Venture Kitchen Mount Joy, Richard Crockett, Mount Joy (Lancaster County) – December 2008
York Central Farmers Market, Aeman Bashir, York (York County) – Pre-venture
Munnell Run Farm Regional Food Venture, James Mondok , Mercer (Mercer County) – Pre-venture
McKean County Biodynamics, Inc., Mary Williams, Bradford (McKean County) – Pre-venture
Center for Culinary Enterprises, The Enterprise Center, Jeff Wicklund, Philadelphia (Philadelphia County) – Pre-venture
It is notable that the PSU Team provided support to Munnell Run Farm and Black Berry Meadows in their development of successful proposals for PA DCED First Industries Funding; it is also an important accomplishment that the information about shared kitchens provided by this Team was captured on Internet video to disseminate the information about shared kitchens and their potential for farmers who wish to add value.
As a result of the series of community meetings in Pennsylvania, the team encountered two challenges to shared kitchen incubator usage by farmers wishing to add value to their agricultural products.
The first is a matter of time; farming, by its very nature is a time-consuming occupation. The process of planting, cultivating and harvesting plant-based food items or raising animals for meat, milk and eggs takes all the available hours that many agricultural producers have. Communities wishing to support agriculture by setting up shared kitchens should consider having as tenants, food entrepreneurs who will utilize local agricultural products (dividing the tasks between two businesses rather than having one farmer try to “do it all.” This model was rarely seen in the shared kitchen incubators currently operating, but should be piloted in a future facility to assess its potential.
The second involves the apparent need to deviate from the standard model of shared kitchen for use by producers of “potentially hazardous foods” — that is to say, meat and milk products with shelflife. When such items are processed in a commercial kitchen, because of safe handling practices, the facility ceases to be shared, since the processor needs to be separated by time and space from all other food product manufacturers. In the case of cheese making or a butchering operation, the model should be one of a cooperative that shares the facility and a production staff. Again, this type of shared commercial facility was not observed during the Keystone Kitchen research phase (but the need for dairy and meat processing was quite pronounced by farmers attending the community meetings). For this reason, a shared processing facility should be piloted, in the future, to assess its effectiveness in enabling farmers to add value.