Economic development cooking in NW Illinois
Food is at the heart of a new northwest region economic development tool geared to adding value to local farm products.
Published: May 19, 2012
The KitchenIncubator of N.W. Illinois officially opened last week in Sterling’s business incubator complex in Whiteside County. The commercial food manufacturing facility was funded by the city, the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Sterling Development Corp., and private donations.
“We needed a spot for food-related businesses and we have a built-in market with the (year-round) farmers’ market,” Kim Janssen Ewoldsen, chamber of commerce director, told FarmWeek.
Janssen Ewoldsen and Krista Morthland, economic development director, envision the facility being used by farmers to process vegetable, fruits, or meat; non-profit groups to prepare foods for fundraising; and youth groups and classes to learn about food preparation.
Kitchen incubators have been built around the country, but Janssen Ewoldsen said she believed the one in Sterling is the first of its kind in Illinois.
The multi-room facility offers different kitchen and bakery equipment and is open around the clock, seven days a week. It may be rented on an hourly, weekly, monthly, or longer basis.
An existing test market is available through the year-round indoor farmers’ market, Twin City Market.
A commercial kitchen is part of the farmers’ market facility, but demand has outgrown the space and its lack of canning equipment, said Janssen Ewoldsen. She envisioned farmers processing extra sweet corn, beef, or pork into value-added products to be sold at the farmers’ market.
“You don’t have to be a large farm (to use the kitchen incubator). You might have a small sweet corn patch and want to can corn salsa,” she offered.
To help new food entrepreneurs, a full-time kitchen manager is familiar with health department regulations as well as the food-related requirements of the USDA and Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Staff with the adjacent Small Business Development Center are available to answer start-up business questions, Janssen Ewoldsen noted.
“If you want to start a food business, this is the place to come. We believe we can be a one-stop shop,” she said.
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