The project to support value-added production and focus attention on the onerous requirements for small scale entrepreneurs began with first-year activities including mutual support among the dozen participants, the nuts-and-bolts of starting a food business and marketing. The second year coincided with the economic downturn and impacted the project in several ways: financial support evaporated for some participant’s expansion plans and the proposed rental kitchen closed. Despite this, sales of allowable produced-at-home, value-added products at our farmers market increased in volume and diversity. At the project’s farm-to-fork dinner, participants vividly presented barriers to greater production options to our legislative representatives.
The entrepreneurs at our local farmers market are stymied by a state-level barrier that makes it impossible to produce many types of value-added products in their home kitchens. Current regulations in Georgia require costly certified kitchens that make it economically unfeasible to initiate and test jam, jellies, and vegetable products on a small scale. This project proposed to start working towards grassroots change by creating a network of local entrepreneurs who would produce and market their value-added products to area consumers, businesses and caterers. Through a series of workshops that are based on the Kentucky Microprocessor model, the participants would rent space in an existing certified commercial kitchen that had agreed to participate in the project. The culmination of training and product development would include sales at our local farmers markets and a preview party where local, regional and state food safety officials and legislators would be invited to sample the products. We envision this model to be picked up by other communities throughout Georgia, serving as the core constituency for changing state policy to allow for home-based microprocessing. In the bargain, our producers would be able to develop their products, sell them legally, and add to their “bottom lines”. The community’s resources in economic development, marketing, event planning and catering would be tapped to enhance the project’s success and reach.
- Increase economic viability of local sustainable entrepreneurs through assistance in producing value-added products using a local certified kitchen.
Demonstrate the feasibility of safe and economically-beneficial food processing on a small scale by replicating the Kentucky home-based processor curriculum led by local Extension staff.
Establish a working partnership between agricultural entrepreneurs, local economic development agencies, marketing, and food vendor companies in order to produce and bring new products to meet existing consumer demand for locally grown products.
Begin the grassroots campaign to change state legislation to allow limited home-based food processing options.
The project managers worked with our local extension agent to identify existing education resources for our project participants. We were able to bring staff from the University of Georgia’s Food Science Extension Outreach Program and the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development to Pike County to teach the Starting a Food Business course. It included information on the procedures to follow in having our participant’s product licensed, inspected, and approved as well as labeling requirements and food safety. Our Family and Consumer Science agent offered several courses on canning, food safety, sanitation and state regulatory procedures.
Project participants were able to meet with a professional marketing consultant who helped them develop packaging and marketing strategies for their product. In partnership with our local Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Authority, participants had the opportunity to meet with an adviser from the Georgia Small Business Development Center. She offered one-on-one help with business plans and financial options. Throughout the two years of the project, the group met regularly to support and suggest ideas for each person’s product, marketing plan and business plans.
In partnership with our local Farm Bureau and Agribusiness Authority, the participants held a “tasting” they called the Farm to Fork Dinner for elected officials (including our state representative who serves on two agricultural study committees) and other community leaders. They previewed their products and discussed the need for regulatory change so that they could produce them at home in their own kitchens using a model such as the Kentucky one.
When the strategy to rent a commercial kitchen for the production stage of the project turned out to be not feasible (the proposed site closed due to the economy, secondary sites could not offer enough rental hours or were concerned over liability and licensing issues) the project investigated successful, for-profit kitchen incubators. We subsequently developed a workable design for a publicly accessible, non-profit commercial kitchen and are now working on a strategy to build one.
The project produced a pamphlet on starting a food business in Pike County that is available through the Chamber of Commerce, Pike County, Farm Bureau and City of Zebulon offices. This is also available on the Agribusiness Authority’s website which is linked to several local sites. In addition, several publications on the subject are available for loan through the Agribusiness Authority.
The project served eight local entrepreneurs who moved from the dream stage of creating a marketable, value-added product to the pre-implementation/production stage. In two cases, participants have increased production and added selling days and sites. They now have the knowledge of the requirements, barriers, and resources to move to larger scale production and wider retail distribution. We now have a core group of people who can move into production for their own products or assist others who are just beginning. We produced a pamphlet that is a local resource for others who are interested in value-added production and have it posted on our website.
The most significant finding involved production issues. There was unanticipated problems in securing rental space in a commercial kitchen which was proposed as an interium step to processing legally in home kitchens. In Year Two of the project, because of the economic downturn, our restaurant site closed. At the same time our project participants told us they preferred the model of working in a production facility over making their product at home. Three participants are looking for financing and evaluating options for production, including building a certified kitchen or a feasible rental option, either at a nearby facility or an incubator kitchen located 85 miles away. We obtained design and operations consultation from a successful, for-profit incubator kitchen and have developed an architectural rendering for a public, non-profit facility.
Because we included Extension in the training piece, they are now more aware and amenable to assisting folks to work toward value-added, entrepreneurial goals. Our consumer science agent also reviewed the Kentucky microprocessing material as a part of her participation.
Before this project, the majority of the public, economic development staff and our elected officials had never heard of value-added. They had never considered the viability of small-scale, entrepreneurial agricultural production. The taste-testing, farm-to-fork dinner resulted in a significant rise in awareness of the potential of local entrepreneurial talent and possibilities in the locally-grown, value-added arena. Because of the experience of going through the product testing and planning stages, the participants were able to show them viable products and give concrete, extensive feedback on the best ways to support new business. Our local state legislator now has a boots-on-the-ground understanding of the issues around the onerous regulations for home kitchen production. He has information on the Kentucky micro-processing model. There is growing support to consider public financing of a non-profit incubator
Educational & Outreach Activities
The project produced a pamphlet that has specific information on local resources for people who want to start a food business. It was designed to be a one-stop resource. We have a hard copy version and it is also on our agribusiness authority website that is linked to other area websites. We have distributed it to the Farm Bureau, the County Commission office, Economic Development, and the Chamber.
The local papers covered the Farm to Fork dinner and it was featured in our monthly agribusiness newsletter in addition to the Farm Bureau newsletter.
The best outreach are the successful vendors at the weekly Market on the Square who were participants in the project.
- Created local group of trained value-added entrepreneurs who have the knowledge to produce their own products and can consult with others who are interested in doing the same.
Increased awareness among farmers, county and economic development leaders,legislators and extension staff of the financial, infrastructure, and supply chain needs of local entrepreneurs who wish to produce value-added products.
Identified key preferences among local participants for value-added production: They would rather utilize a community kitchen incubator instead of home-based production, even if it were legal to do so.
Developed a design and implementation plan for a community kitchen incubator.
Hosted a farm to fork dinner that showcased local, value-added products and met with county civic and political leaders to address barriers to production.
Our experience and findings on how to support local entrepreneurs in bringing their ideas to fruition has value for many rural and “edge” communities who want to increase the economic viability of their farmers and local economies.
The potential and interest, as well as the challenges for locally-produced, value-added products has been highlighted for future producers, our own economic development authority, our elected county officials and our state representative. This suggests that more financial and regulatory support for this important piece of the local food system is warranted on a statewide basis.
Our farm families are intrigued and are evaluating the potential for adding value-added products to help their bottom line. This will contribute to financial viability for our sustainable growers and more diverse food choices for our consumers.
We think the project may have contributed to pushing forward the concept of creating a regional incubator as our local government leaders understand the potential and challenges of value-added for producers and consumers.
- Determine producer preferences for the production site of value-added items: Home or community production facility?
Do a cost and use analysis for a modest, regional community kitchen incubator facility.
Spend more time at the outset in addressing time and financial requirements for producing a viable product. Focus on development of a business plan.
Conduct parallel education for growers on season extension and growing for the value-added production schedule and volumes needed.
Focus on building support systems for new producers.