By Jennifer Vogel
Minnesota Public Radio
Bemidji, Minn. — The kitchen at the back of the new and expanded Harmony Co-op is unfinished, with exposed wiring and the smell of fresh drywall. But soon it will sport industrial refrigerators and double convection ovens and the air will smell of chocolate tortes.
Cheryl Larson Krystosek, a baker and organic farmer, considered making pies at the new kitchen when it opens next April, but says, “It’s the chocolate hazelnut torte that everyone in town is addicted to.” She hopes to be one of the incubator facility’s first renters, once it’s fully outfitted and attains FDA approval.
The goal is to provide a space where local food entrepreneurs like Larson Krystosek can turn out commercial products without having to build expensive, up-to-code second kitchens in their homes. This food can then be sold in restaurants and grocery stores. “I have some jams I want to do, too,” Larson Krystosek says. “Ginger and brandy and rhubarb and honey jam, which is made with locally-sourced honey.”
People all over Minnesota are trying to figure out how to make local foods practical on a larger scale. Farmers markets and subscription farms have blossomed, but creating a source of local produce or canned or baked goods that’s large, reliable and safe enough to satisfy institutions like schools and hospitals remains a challenge. The missing pieces in some places are mid-level businesses like regional distributors and processing facilities.
That’s where the incubator kitchen comes in. Modeled on a similar facility in north Minneapolis — the year-old Kindred Kitchen, which has helped spawn several successful catering and food cart businesses — the project aims to strengthen the regional “foodshed” in the Bemidji area.
Harmony produce manager Lisa Weiskopf, who has championed the kitchen with Simone Senogles of the Bemidji-based Indigenous Environmental Network, says, “We started talking about the lack of food access in rural and tribal Minnesota when the kitchen idea came up. The idea of a community kitchen seemed central to being able to facilitate a lot of different work. It’s a way to turn produce into shelf-stable products.”
Read more at Minnesota Public Radio