- Fruits: apples, berries (blueberries), grapes, peaches, pears, plums, berries (strawberries)
- Nuts: walnuts
- Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, peas (culinary), peppers, cucurbits, sweet corn, tomatoes
- Additional Plants: herbs
- Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, fish
- Animal Products: dairy
- Miscellaneous: mushrooms
- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: technical assistance, farmer to farmer
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, feasibility study, agricultural finance, risk management, value added
- Sustainable Communities: community planning, infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities
In recent years, farmers on small, traditional farms have been encouraged to add value to agricultural products in order to keep a greater percentage of the food dollar on the farm. For example, instead of selling fruit to a processing plant, the farmer would create private-label preserves to sell at a farm market or roadside stand. While this process, in which the farm and consumer are moved closer together, represents sound economic thinking, it poses several challenges to the farmer.
One challenge has to do with the capacity to create food products legally in a farm/home kitchen. 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; the cost of setting up such a facility to process a product that has not been tested in the marketplace is excessive.
In many cases, farmers who wish to enter value-added production do not have the skill or desire to make the product for themselves. They would benefit greatly from having access to a facility where cheese can be made from their milk, or jam from their berries.
In addition, farming does not prepare one to launch a marketing campaign for a new food product; agricultural producers need education and support to successfully create, package and sell value-added food items.
All of these challenges can be addressed by a community-based shared kitchen, which supplies 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.
At present, there are two shared kitchens in Pennsylvania – facilities that opened their doors in 2005/06. Neither of these is targeting farmer-producers as their primary member/tenants.
To successfully start value-added enterprises, farmer/grower groups need to be made aware of (1)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.
Project objectives from proposal:
For the past year, a team of Penn State Extension and Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP) personnel have worked on a feasibility study designed to identify appropriate communities and groups of agricultural producers across Pennsylvania who have sufficient interest and infrastructure to make a shared kitchen feasible. As a second component of this project, the team has conducted primary research to determine best practices adopted by shared kitchens in New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Vermont – looking for commonalities and preparing a list of these BMPs to effectively guide the set-up and operation of new shared kitchens in Pennsylvania.
As this project enters phase two, specific communities in the Appalachian Region of Pennsylvania have been identified where farmer/producer interest is strong. Coupled with this grassroots interest, there are local collaborators who have been brought on-board in phase one with the desire and capability to assist in evaluating feasibility of setting up a shared kitchen in their community: Mercer County Conservation District/Munnell Run Farm Foundation, Food Matrix/produce processing and bakery, and Ligonier Country Market/producer only market.
This project addresses disseminating the information gathered and offering individualized support to groups as they make the start-up decision for a community kitchen. Through a series of meetings – one with each of the identified groups — farmer/producers will learn about the specific value-added foods identified as having potential in their locale and they will be encouraged to take the next step – exploring feasibility for their local shared kitchen and forming a community collaboration to pursue this option.
One large challenge needs to be addressed with each community group interested in this project. Often, shared kitchens have been set up using grants – and when the funding has been exhausted, they are forced to close their doors. By visiting the shared kitchens that have proven exceptional, by continuing to remain open more than 5 years, our team has been able to discern certain BMPs that will allow a kitchen the best chance of staying viable. At the proposed meetings, the information gathered in relation to BMPs will be shared during the conceptual stage so that each shared kitchen that is set up may have the best chance of success. The funding requested in this proposal will be used in support of the initial meetings and follow-up sessions, over the next two years.
A First Industries Grant Financing was already secured by our team from the PA Department of Community & Economic Development that has allowed us to conduct the community interest surveys and to collect BMPs. This grant assumed that there would be other organizations to share the cost of dissemination of this information. As the meetings take place, the First Industries funding will be used to bring a nationally recognized expert on shared kitchen development and operations, to support the feasibility and planning phases. In this way, each of the communities will be ensured the best opportunity for an informed go/no-go decision.