Grange awarded grant for food storage, distribution
WEST FARMINGTON - Thanks to a grant award, the plans for walk-in coolers and easy access to the Farmington Grange's new commercial kitchen, toward the ultimate goal of being a distribution center for local produce, will become reality.
Maine Community Foundation's Broad Reach Fund announced the award of $11,000 to the Grange's Community kitchen Project. The grant will go towards the air conditioning equipment needed to complete the work on two walk-in coolers for the renovated kitchen located downstairs in the Grange hall. The grant also provides funding for a paved driveway with a loading dock to be installed from Bridge Street to the kitchen door, located on the east side of the historic building.
Once the paving work is complete, products can be easily dropped off at the kitchen door. Currently, everything needs to be carried up exterior stairs into the main hall and then down a set of stairs to the lower level.
"The door is 20 feet from the coolers," said project organizer Richard Marble of Marble Family Farms in Farmington.
Food products will be able to be stored in either of the two walk-in coolers for processing in the kitchen by farmers or sold to people working in the kitchen. Products can also be dropped off and stored until distributed to local retail outlets or sold at the farmers' market held upstairs on Saturdays in winter.
The grant is important to the commercial kitchen project that's been in the works for years. Following extensive renovation to the circa 1870 Grange Hall itself, volunteers worked for 18 months to completely gut and then convert the lower level of the building into a commercial kitchen for people interested in starting new food businesses.
The kitchen is also utilized for preparing Grange suppers, which help raise funds for the renovation work and hall upkeep, which are often followed by a popular community contradance.
Last February, the kitchen opened and currently four licensed commercial food producers work there to can jams, jellies, pesto, with more anticipated to be on the way.
We've gotten a lot of calls," said Bonnie Clark of Clark Family Farms. "The potential is there." Clark, also known as the Kitchen Master, fields the many questions posed by food producers who wonder what it takes to go commercial.
The type of license needed depends on the type of food product. Clark's canning operation for jams and jellies needed a license administered through the state's Department of Agriculture. To get the license for a single food product like Clark's, a sample of the product is sent to a lab to be analyzed to make sure it's safe for commercial sale. Then an appointment is set up with inspector Marshall Piper at the site of production, which in this case is the Grange's commercial kitchen.
This part of the application, "is pretty much a shoo-in, Clark said because the Grange's kitchen has already been approved for commercial production use. The single food type of licensing application costs $70, takes about a month to complete and is good for one year. Anyone who has an idea for a product and farmers interested in increasing their income through processing, retailing or distributing is encouraged to contact Clark at 778-6637 for more information.
Marble said they are delighted with the grant, which moves this phase of the construction to completion.
"It gets all the mechanisms in place," he said. "It makes up and running possible."
The next phase of the community product-producing project, is build a free-standing building to house a micro-cannery. Marble noted there is much interest in providing a cannery for small producers. The W.S. Wells & Son cannery in Wilton, is a large facility that needs a high volume of product to process, Marble said. Small, micro-cannery facilities are few and far between, with the nearest one in Belfast.
"We could have people coming from all over the state to use this facility," he said.
In the meantime, a wish list of equipment needed to complete the kitchen includes: a flash freezer, rubber mats, a steam-jacketed kettle, a commercial food processor, attachments for a Hobart mixer such as a grinder, shredder, dough hooks, etc. Some type of wrapper sealer, a scale and label printer, large pots and mixing bowls and a hand cart. If you have any of these items please call Marble at 491-6166.