Certified kitchen space is required to run a properly certified, food-safe food business.
In the spring of 2016 we left our beloved kitchen space in Jamaica Plain at Crop Circle Kitchen, now Commonwealth Kitchen, to move closer to our farmers just West of Boston. To Powisset Farm we went, a Trustees of the Reservation property, which had recently finished outfitting an old barn with a beautiful certified kitchen space, originally designed to be a Food Hub- a place where locally grown food from Powisset Farm and surrounding farms could be safely processed and preserved, thus increasing access to such food. The project with a vision to build this food hub was generously funded through a grant by The Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund.
The Gap in the Local Food System
After a change in management in 2017, the Trustees, and Powisset Staff decided that despite intentions of the grant, the kitchen shall no longer be used as a commercial kitchen, but rather for private events and cooking classes ranging in price from $30-$75 per head, featuring pie and cookie making, and classes such as “Hidden Vegetables” aimed at children. The kitchen was henceforth deemed not suitable for processing the thousands of pounds of locally grown food each week that otherwise heads to the compost pile without food entrepreneurs who can process, preserve and market this excess. Even new businesses centered around processing Powisset Farm produce were turned away from this space! The decision was made to leverage this space in a way that minimizes, and arguably reverses growth of the local food system.
The hunt for a new kitchen space began.
Finding a Reliable, Affordable Commercial Kitchen
Commercial kitchens are everywhere, right?? Yes, but… we came across two general scenarios: use a space in an institution, but carry-in/carry-out all materials, i.e. no storage; or lease a space and build out a dedicated kitchen. Having a small kitchen space with no storage means inefficiency in production, and labor intensively moving equipment and food back and forth (also not conducive to bulk-buying from farmers who sell dried beans, grains, etc., or freezing and preserving local produce for later use. Having a dedicated kitchen space means increasing production to support such a cost. Either of these scenarios can distract from putting more time into more important tasks, like tracking down disparate locally grown food from busy farmers who don’t have the time to bring it to you.
We talked to churches, schools and organizations who have certified kitchens. The over-arching theme was lack of storage space. It takes work to get into a new routine, and share a space. Conclusion: while there are many under-utilized kitchen spaces in the Boston area, there aren’t many people willing to go the extra mile to make local food happen, and give up precious storage real-estate to do so.
Having affordable, reliable kitchen space means more affordable food, and lower barriers to entry for entrepreneurs, particularly those who focus on making locally grown food more accessible. When kitchen space is secure for a business, paying a little more for locally grown produce is easier, without passing a prohibitive cost on to customers. We feel it’s our duty to you to make our food as affordable as possible, while paying our farmers a fair wage; we wouldn’t be growing a resilient food system otherwise.
Come September, we didn’t find a permanent solution to kitchen space, but were relieved to have found a lovely and welcoming interim space in Natick, MA at a family farm and orchard; it is just around the corner from the farm at which we source much of our vegetables.
While a short term solution was found, our search, experience at Powisset Farm, and speaking with other entrepreneurs struggling to find secure kitchen space, sheds light on the glaring gap of affordable, reliable kitchen space for entrepreneurs who function at a scale that can easily work with similarly-scaled local farms.
What’s the Long-Term Solution?
Shared Commercial Kitchen in a Shipping Container
We need affordable, reliable, certified kitchen spaces managed by people dedicated to growing a healthy, resilient food system. These spaces must have cold storage, dry storage, and equipment that make it efficient for entrepreneurs to do their jobs, while still being able to have a focus on buying micro-seasonally available produce from local farmers.
Imagine a kitchen in a shipping container: it’s a relatively cheap building, can be outfitted with equipment suitable for 4-5 different food businesses, and a separate container can house refrigerator, freezer and dry storage space for these businesses. Given proper permitting, it can be located on a farm, or nearby, where access to farmers and updates on their produce can be easily accessible. If the landlord or manager decided the kitchen no longer works in that space, a truck can carry it to a new location. This means entrepreneurs will never have to worry that they won’t have a space to produce their food.
We’re have proposed such a project, and will be updating you soon on the steps we’re taking to move forward.
Stay Updated on Our Progress!