Community Kitchen Spaces Boost Food Entrepreneurs

To help lower costs and create value, many producers turn to a community kitchen.

| November/December 2010

Al Schmidt

Al Schmidt of Casa Nueva Manufacturing works on processing peppers at the Athens Business Incubation Center, part of Ohio’s Appalachian Center for Economic Networks.

courtesy ACEnet, Athens, Ohio

When Chris Chmiel leaves his farm in southern Ohio for the weekly drive to the farmers’ market, he brings along blocks of his handmade goat cheese and jars of his pawpaw-spiceberry jam. In Michigan, Vicki Fuller, owner of Maple Island Pies, recruits family members to help sell her flaky treats at four different farmers’ markets. And in Pennsylvania, Kathleen Montgomery totes a cooler filled with containers of her zesty fresh salsa to a farmers’ market not far away. 

Welcome to today’s farmers’ market, where an array of tempting homemade food is sold alongside fresh, dewy produce and buckets of colorful cut flowers. Credit the bad economy for this new bounty as laid-off urbanites, looking for ways to earn income, are re-launching themselves as food entrepreneurs, while those in the country are happy to bring in extra income with value-added products made from damaged fruit or a surplus of vegetables. 

Shared Kitchen Recipes

Greensgrow’s Eggplant Dip
Kat’s Salsa Fresco
Pawpaw Strawberry Mousse
Rustic Fruit Tart

“Selling value-added products at farmers’ markets was the only way we could keep our land from developers,” says Mary Pat Carlson, whose Wisconsin cherry orchard and farm is generations old. “I’ve sold pie filling, pies, frozen cherries and other products. If it hadn’t been for the extra income, we’d probably be a condo right now.” 

Leaping into the cottage food industry isn’t without its obstacles, though. Depending on state health and agricultural regulations, vendors are often required to prepare food sold to the public in certified commercial kitchens – and even if they’re allowed to prepare some food at home, there’s the issue of producing the quantity needed to make a real difference in income.  

The new incubator kitchen 

That’s where the shared or “incubator” kitchen comes in. These kitchens have been springing up across the country like dandelions, though the concept itself is not new.  

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