The Kitchen: Where Food Businesses Grow in North IA

Progress report for ONC22-107

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2022: $40,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Healthy Harvest of North Iowa
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Andrea Evelsizer
Healthy Harvest of North Iowa
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Project Information


Healthy Harvest of North Iowa (HHNI) interviewed fifty local businesses and organizations about local food and agriculture needs. We heard interest from small farms to increase profitability, improve sustainability by reducing waste of potentially viable product, and identified lack of value-added production space. We heard buyer demand for increased availability of locally-produced value-added products. 

Our initial proposal involved the development of a physical space for "The Kitchen" to address the barrier around individually financing appropriately-scaled and licensed kitchen space incurred by businesses looking to add, or expand, value-added production. The site was to feature commercial-grade equipment, storage space, and a flexible layout that would allow for production, hosting of networking and educational programming to support business incubation efforts, and community education around local food access and consumption to increase consumer knowledge of the product offerings within North Iowa. 

This grant was part of a large project that was dependent on funding from three grants. Unfortunately, one grant was not funded and additionally, the owner of the originally proposed kitchen space went a different direction with their property in the time it took for us to receive the approval of our funding. We still expect to achieve the majority of the original project objectives and outcomes; however we are no longer building a new shared-use kitchen. Our updated objects are explained below. 

Project Objectives:
  • Objective 1: Develop a network of kitchens in our 9 county region of North Central Iowa. Update the Iowa Kitchen Connect website to list existing certified kitchens which are available for rental. Producers, and regional partners, can reserve these kitchens for value-added processing and hand-on culinary/local foods educational opportunities. 
  • Objective 2: Creating a rental library of commonly used kitchen equipment for small scale value added processing and cooking classes. Producers, and partners, will be able to pick up the equipment they need from our centrally located storage room. They will then use it at one of the participating kitchens, found in the directory, or another certified kitchen of their choice.
  • Objective 3: Offer technical assistance for producers and kitchen managers in North Iowa. As we identify suitable kitchens to be added to the Iowa Kitchen Connect directory we will provide technical support to the kitchen mangers to list and rent their kitchens. We will also  host networking opportunities to provide technical assistance related to licensing requirements and production of value added products. Our first workshop is scheduled for March 28, 2024.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Laura Tidrick
  • Mallory DeVries
  • Amanda Severson
  • Beth Rachut
  • Karen Koenig


Materials and methods:

We hosted a focus group with five (5) identified farm business owners who have expressed interest in value-added products and/or shared use kitchen space and equipment. We ask them questions about their experiences, where they are at in the process, resources that need, other food and farm businesses they are aware of that would relate to this project, and if they would use a share-use kitchen and/or equipment if they were available in North Iowa, and if so, what they would use it for and need.

This conversation was productive and helpful in creating a survey that was sent out to a broader group of contacts, to gauge their interest in using a shared-use kitchen and/or equipment. We collected nineteen (19) responses. The list of questions are as follows (and are available to view in a full PDF form here): 

  1. Do you grow/raise local food in Iowa?
  2. Name/Contact Information
  3. How many years have you been growing/raising local food?
  4. What was your approximate gross local food sales in 2022? (If you sell commodities, such as corn & soybeans through non-local markets or livestock to a packer - do not include those.)
  5. How many acres do you use for local food farming?
  6. Which food related plan / certifications / licenses do you currently have? Check all that apply.
  7. Thinking of "food waste" what are the items you produce that are often lost due to over production or lack of adequate sales options?
  8. Would you be interested in utilizing a Shared-Use Kitchen to meet your food processing needs if one existed?
  9. Would you be interested in finding an "entrepreneur", co-packer or partners who could make your product for you or use your products in their production?
  10. How likely is it that you would make use of a Shared-Use Kitchen in the next several years?
  11. If you were to use a Shared-Use Kitchen, what types of activities would you need to do there? Check all that apply.
  12. What specific equipment would you need access to in a kitchen space? Check all that apply.
  13. Are there any specific attributes that a Shared-Use Kitchen would need to have to be useful to you?
  14. Which seasons would you process food? Check all that apply.
  15. Do you know of any resources that might help us with this project? i.e. education/training opportunities, partnerships, underutilized storage space/ vehicles, etc.
Research results and discussion:

Based on the survey above we have prioritized the creation of cooking class kits (contents listed below) and the purchase of the following equipment.

8 of the 19 producers surveyed indicated that they are interested in hosting cooking classes. Based on that feedback we are putting together eight (8) cooking class kits which will include the items below. The ones with the asterix (*) have been ordered to date.

  • Induction cooktop*
  • Induction ready 8 inch, no-stick skillet*
  • Mixing bowls
  • Cutting boards*
  • Knife sets (pairing, chefs, bread knives)
  • Mixing spoons*, spatula*, flipper, etc.
  • Measuring cups and spoons*
  • Peelers*
  • Tongs

The following items will be available in lower quantiles and can be requested based on recipe. 

  • Apple peeler/slicer*
  • Graters
  • Digital scale
  • Stock pot with lid
  • Can openers*
  • Hand choppers
  • Kitchen shears*

Other equipment that was requested by multiple producers includes:

  • Vacuum sealer*
  • Blender and immersion blender*
  • RoboCoupe (vegetable chopper)
  • Instant read and laser thermometer
  • Label makers*
  • Mixer
  • pH strips
  • Water/hydration meter

Below are additional items which were identified however these items are pending additional feedback because only 1-3 producers expressed interest in them from the survey.

  • Pressure canner
  • Bagging equipment (specialized funnels)
  • Dehydrator
  • Photography equipment (HHNI already owns some of these items)
  • Meat slicer
  • Freeze dryer
  • Stockpot with tap/faucet

We are in the process of researching and ordering the equipment listed above and creating an inventory system for rental of the cooking kits and equipment. We will be testing the rental process in March 2024 and plan to open the rental process within the next few months. We will evaluate the  interest in the newly purchased equipment and ask for additional requests.

Participation Summary
19 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

6 Consultations
1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

8 Farmers participated
1 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Andrea Evelsizer, HHNI Executive Director and project lead, presented a progress update at the 2024 Iowa Specialty Crop Conference held in January

We hosted an in person focus group with 5 producers in January,2023 and consulted with Jess Baldus, local chef, regarding kitchen & processing equipment in November, 2023.

We are planning a commercial kitchen networking event on March 28, 2024.

Additional workshops and outreach activities are TBD. 


Learning Outcomes

19 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
Project outcomes:

Economically, we are increase production capacity and market opportunity for farmers, directly contributing to the supply and demand of local value-added products. HHNI works with sixty-one farms, vineyards, restaurants, grocers, and breweries in North Iowa– yet less than 10% of the farms participate in value-added production. Whether it is through small-scale production, participating in the business workshops, or networking with other local food business– there are ample avenues to engage in The Kitchen, and take advantage of the numerous opportunities by expanding into the currently under-accessed value-added market space. Additionally, by providing cooking kits we are helping producers to conduct cooking/educational classes will lead to increased knowledge on how to prepare fresh foods, in turn leading to increased sales. 

Environmentally, we plan to decrease food waste on farms, and decrease the impact of physical space and materials by utilizing an equipment rental library and shared-kitchen network. 

Socially, we are improving quality of life for participating rural, limited resource farmers by supporting their economic success and strengthening social connection through business networking. We also plan to partner with organizations who serve different under-served populations to offer educational classes, and engage them value-added processing opportunities. Our long-term goal is to make the equipment, specifically the cooking class kits, available to community members of all backgrounds and means.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.