The project was successful as it accomplished the original goals identified. First, the project provided the tools necessary for food-entrepreneurship endeavors, including a commercial kitchen facility and technical training to assist in the production of value-added agricultural products. Secondly, the project offered educational opportunities through a series of “Heritage Foods” classes. Finally, the project offered experiential learning opportunities through special events, including a dinner series and festivals. The overall effect was to help sustain the agricultural community by creating an awareness of and demand for their farm-fresh products whether used for value-added products, retail sale or in the dining experience.
The Stecoah Kitchen Entrepreneurship & Agri-tourism Project will help improve local and regional economic conditions through a variety of food-related services, activities and events. First, the existing shared-use commercial kitchen facility project (commonly known as Stecoah Valley Food Ventures) will continue to provide the tools necessary for farmers and food entrepreneurs to profitably produce value-added agricultural products. This part of the project offers the opportunity for individual entrepreneurial success while sustaining the agricultural community and heritage of the area.
Second, a new Heritage Foods series that focuses on traditional Appalachian foods and foodways will be offered as a part of this project. This series will include cooking classes taught in our commercial kitchen and other venues, as well as other food-related classes taught in both indoor and “outdoor classroom” settings.
The third part of the project includes special events such as the Appalachian Dinner Series, Country Fair and a new Wildlife Festival that will also focus on our mountain traditions and will kindle a renewed interest in local foods and foodways. Both the classes and events will be planned to help attract and keep cultural/heritage and agri-tourists in the local area. The results of the project will be an increase in local entrepreneurship, new growth in tourism as a sustainable revenue source and continued support for the agricultural community.
The project includes three major objectives to help improve local economic conditions:
1. To provide farmers, growers and food entrepreneurs the tools necessary to profitably engage in a food-based small business, i.e. to produce and sell value-added agricultural or nature-based products.
2. To provide cultural/heritage and agri-tourists food and nature based educational opportunities through kitchen cooking, typical classroom and outdoor classroom experiences.
3. To provide cultural/heritage and agri-tourists other opportunities to experience food-based or agriculture related activities through special events such as the Appalachian Dinner Series, Country Fair and the new Wildlife Festival.
Objective #1 – To provide farmers, growers and food entrepreneurs the tools necessary to profitably engage in a food-based small business, i.e. to produce and sell value-added agricultural or nature-based products.
The Center has as a part of its facility a state-of-the-art shared use commercial kitchen that opened its doors to meet the needs of the local agricultural community in October 2005. Originally conceived and designed primarily to assist farmers affected by the loss of tobacco crops, the Stecoah Kitchen has grown and now knows more about its users. It is clear that some farmers prefer only to work the land, leaving the production of value-added products to others. Here the emerging food-entrepreneur plays a valuable role by creating new value-added products to meet the demand of many niche markets. The food entrepreneur is now the primary targeted user of the kitchen. Whether produced by the farmer or the food-entrepreneur, this project provides the assistance needed to overcome the most common barriers to beginning a food-based small business. This project has in the past and will continue in the future to provide entrepreneurial assistance that includes:
a. Facility: Provide access to a FDA/NCDA inspected and local health department food-graded kitchen facility with proper equipment and trained staff.
b. Technical Training: Provide access to educational opportunities in proper food preparation, sanitation procedures, equipment use and maintenance and other food-based technical issues.
c. General Business/Marketing Training: Provide access to educational opportunities in general business skills, product development, marketing, business plan development, financial and other educational opportunities.
d. Meeting Room: Provide meeting space used to establish a network group of entrepreneurs, hold classes and workshops and to be available for other public uses.
To date, kitchen users have produced such diverse products as Sassafras Syrup, Ramp Cornmeal Mix, Jams, Cookies and Candies… all using agricultural products and adding to the regional economic base. Additionally, food, sanitation or business related training and services have been provided to hundreds of people. It is anticipated that this segment of the project will continue to grow as local community members become comfortable with the concept, new ideas flourish and new products are developed.
Objective #2. To provide cultural/heritage and agri-tourists food and nature based educational opportunities through kitchen cooking, typical classroom and outdoor classroom experiences.
Cultural/heritage and agri-tourists are often looking for educational or experiential learning opportunities, however such opportunities are sorely lacking in the local area. This project objective has addressed this need by providing classes and other educational opportunities in a variety of food and nature-based subjects and settings. The use of classes and other activities has provided the student an active, participatory experience… an experience often more meaningful and satisfying than the passive nature of simply attending a lecture, concert or event.
A new Heritage Foods series was offered in 2008 as a part of this project. This series included cooking classes taught in our commercial kitchen as well as in other venues, such as at the hearth in an 1880’s farmhouse. In addition to cooking classes, the Heritage Foods series included classes related to other subjects, such as Dehydrating Fruits and Vegetables, Herbal Dressings & Oils and Foraging Foods. These classes were taught in an “outdoor classroom” setting along our nature trail.
This first year of the project included a variety of class subjects, structures and schedules to determine those that would be most successful. Class length and duration varied based on complexity of the subject and level of instruction. All of these events were planned to attract, educate and entertain the cultural/heritage and agri-tourist community.
Objective #3. To provide cultural/heritage and agri-tourists other opportunities to experience food-based or agriculture related activities through special events such as the Appalachian Dinner Series, Country Fair and the new Wildlife Festival.
Special events are yet one more way to attract tourists (become a tourist destination) or to encourage the tourist to stay longer and return more often. This project included several special events for this purpose.
In summer 2007, a popular new dinner series “An Appalachian Dinner” was begun. This full meal, prepared in the traditional mountain style featuring fresh local produce, was served each Saturday evening prior to our summer concert events and offered the visitor a truly unique, authentic Appalachian evening. This series was continued with great success in 2008. Additionally, a new dinner series featuring authentic Cherokee food was offered in 2008. Other special dinners including Mothers Day, Fathers Day and Thanksgiving were also offered.
The October Harvest Festival includes the Country Fair – a celebration of mountain foods and foodways that continues the old-time food preservation skills and competitions. The Harvest Festival also included demonstrations of corn grinding and open hearth cooking, as well as offering tasty BBQ and old-fashioned apple dumplings. Other special events included the annual Mountain Music Championship, Breakfast with Santa and four Sunday luncheons prior to Gospel singing performances.
Objective #1: Entrepreneurship
Outcome: Provided kitchen facility to 3 food entrepreneurs, 5 growers and 14 community organizations/members.
Impact: Exposed facility to over 202 people through entrepreneurship and business organizations. An additional 191 people used the kitchen for 8 community events.
Objective #2: Educational Opportunities
Outcome: Provided educational opportunities to 85 participants in 29 classes offered.
Impact: Preserved Appalachian heritage with local instructors teaching participants about our mountain culture.
Objective #3: Special Events
Outcome: Provided 26 dinners to 1,136 participants and 5 festivals/special events to 722 participants.
Impact: Cultural/heritage tourists and community members were offered an experiential learning opportunity about Appalachian foods and food-ways.
While successful, many farmers and food entrepreneurs have been slow to embrace this new opportunity. In an effort to set an example that hopefully will encourage food entrepreneurship, SVFV started a new line of its own value-added agricultural products in 2008. Future plans include an expansion of the product line using fresh produce grown in our own garden. In 2008, the garden provided visitors the opportunity to see where and how some of the vegetables for their Appalachian dinner or class/workshop were grown. Offering value-added products made on the premises with locally grown ingredients will be another attraction to cultural/heritage and agri-tourists, thus increasing entrepreneurship, tourism and continued support for the agricultural community.
The Heritage Food Series, Culinary Workshops and other special events have provided educational opportunities to attract more cultural/heritage and agri-tourists. These educational opportunities will be expanded in the future to include youth classes/activities to teach the Appalachian foodways and heritage to this very important new group of participants.
At this time, it appears that sustainability of this project based solely on food entrepreneurship is unlikely. By expanding our programs and offerings, we can reach more participants who may be interested in a wider variety of events, programs and products that will support SVFV operations in the future.