Peeping in the Brooder Box – Issue #1

The Brooder Box is a page at this blog devoted to local food ideas bubbling along in the Spring Creek Watershed, and the local people who are bringing those ideas to life. I plan to write occasional aggregate updates about these efforts; this is the first one.

Neighborhood Newsletters – Several months ago, Jackie Bonomo  (jabonomo@verizon.net) put together a sample letter for people interested in helping their neighbors get to know each other. Sample Neighborhood Letter

Anne Burgevin (anneatpeace@yahoo.com) adapted the sample letter a few weeks ago, and invited her Pine Grove  Mills neighbors to participate. She sent out the first edition of the Piney Ridge Gazette on Jan. 16, featuring grandparents announcing the birth of a new grandchild, people introducing themselves and their pets, sharing their vocations, hobbies and even carpool offers. She now has about 20 subscribing households.

Food Cooperative – “a grocery store organized as a cooperative…usually consumers’ cooperatives owned by their members.”  FEATURED IDEA AT JAN. 26 POTLUCK

Daryl Sinn (jeanes9961@gmail.com), a food  buyer at Hotel State College, wrote an email just after the Nov. 15 Harvest Feast: “My wife [Jeanne] and I were members of two co-ops in town during the middle and late 1970s, most notably Our Store Food Co-op, which was member-only. I have spoken to people intermittently over the last couple of years about starting another. I served on the board of directors of Our Store, and have worked in the food business for several decades. Maybe it is an idea whose time has come (again)…The Our Store Food Coop had almost 200 members…” Sarah Potter (thinkstart@mac.com), PSU Horticulture Graduate, former science teacher and farm educator wrote: “I am excited at the prospects of making this type of food source/market a reality. A great co-op example in PA: Weaver’s Way in Philly area. Check it out.”

A couple weeks later, I sent an email to Tony Ricci (tony@greenheronfarm.com), farmer at Green Heron Farm in Huntingdon and member with Tuscarora Organic Growers. Tony replied: “My wife and I used to belong to Our Store co-op back in the 70’s. I was briefly the produce buyer and my wife Becky illustrated a cookbook that the co-op published. We still have a tattered copy somewhere….After leaving State College we established an organic vegetable farm in Huntingdon County. We deliver every week to state College and Huntingdon – mostly to restaurants. We also belong to one of the largest organic growers vegetable cooperatives, Tuscarora Organic Growers, on the east coast which happens to be headquartered right here in Huntingdon County. So I’m thinking if people are really excited about reinvigorating a food cooperative we’d like to be part of that as suppliers…” (If  they find the old cookbook, I’m interested in helping organize a limited reprint.)

A few days ago, Jackie Bonomo told me about Frankferd Farms Foods – a Pittsburgh-area cooperative distributor of bulk foods with active buying clubs in State College area and another potential regional supplier for an emerging food coop.

Community Kitchen – FEATURED IDEA AT FEBRUARY 28 POTLUCK

LaCreta Holland (lacretaholland@gmail.com) sent an email a few weeks ago: “A community kitchen is an idea that I have thought of but never dreamed possible. Here are two links that I have found interesting as this revolution in the cooking world begins: In the Kitchen/Wendy Van Wagner  and Whole Foods.”

LaCreta has been raising four kids in State College for the last decade, after living in Italy for five years – where she caught the local food passion there. LaCreta already teaches cooking classes in her home, and has been advertising the classes on campus. She has a particular interest in reaching college students who don’t know how to cook, and Food Bank clients who may not know how to cook fresh produce contributed by area farmers during peak season. She’s consulted briefly with Jeremiah Dick – the culinary arts instructor at State College High School, who’s reportedly also interested in public cooking classes, and already caters, offers in-home lessons, and teaches at Penn Tech.

To continue exploring what’s involved with starting a community kitchen,  LaCreta she reached out to Wendy Van Wagner, age 30, owner of In the Kitchen, a cooking school and community kitchen in Nevada City, California. (I sat in on the phone interview.)

Wendy said she started – with no business background – by advertising in-home cooking classes on Craigslist when she was living in the Bay Area. She later moved to small town Nevada City – which had a  thriving local food scene including nearby BriarPatch Co-op Community Market – but no commercial community kitchen. Her family helped out, buying a 1940s bungalow in a neighborhood with heavy foot traffic.

Renovations took a year – including purchase and installation of new vinyl flooring, a three-compartment sink with floor drains, a food prep sink, a handwashing sink, a stove/range and hood with an ANSUL system for fire protection (costing $10,000 0 $15,000) and commercial refrigeration.

The business opened three years ago; profits are small but growing, and wendy shared some of the lessons she’s learned in the process. Catering has become 60% of her revenue stream; cooking classes and kitchen rentals to other cooks and cooking teachers making up the other 40%. And teaching ability has turned out to be more important than professional culinary skills.

Renters include a nonprofit that makes meals for recovering cancer patients after they go home from the nearby hospital; a raw foods chef and a baker. Renters pay $20 – $25 per hour to use the kitchen. Wendy also makes sauerkraut and fermented goods to sell at local grocery stores.

Wendy’s Advice:

  • Talk to your local health department about restaurant and food business regulations first.
  • Think carefully about how to structure the business – nonprofit, for-profit, sole proprietor or partnership – and about when and how to partner with other businesses and nonprofits for outreach and mutual support.
  • Make your kitchen larger than you think you’ll need, buy secondhand whenever possible, and get as big a refrigerator as you can afford. Production kitchens need a lot of shelf space, refrigeration space and prep space and as the business grows and attracts new customers, space gets tight quickly. (Wendy has found it to be a case of: “If you build it, they will come.”)
  • Diversify revenue streams (cooking classes, rentals, small batch production, catering, dinner parties, etc.)

Other contacts: A few weeks ago I met with Kerry Kaylegian (kek14@psu.edu) – Pilot Plant Manager at PSU Food Science Department, who’s also interested in community kitchens and applying rigorous food safety standards to community kitchen programs, including incubator kitchens for small batch processors. And I’ve been referred to Julie Hurst  (royjulie@pa.net) – farmer at Blue Rooster Farm and supervisor for the Food Shed, a PA Department of Agriculture-licensed community kitchen at Roy & Hope Brubaker’s Village Acres CSA Farm in Mifflintown. The kitchen is available for rental. I’m personally curious about how Toronto’s  The Stop Community Food Centre could be adapted to State College’s needs. Just found an intriguing brochure about kitchen incubation from the Carbondale Technology Transfer Center: CTTC Kitchen Incubator Brochure

Farm Camp for Kids/Farm School – 

Mark Maloney (mark@mcmmanagementgroup.com), owner of Greenmoore Gardens CSA, has been working for years on plans for development-supported agriculture (DSA), in which homes are built around a central farm, and homeowners association fees go back into farm as an additional revenue stream to help make the business sustainable. (State College Magazine profiled Maloney and his projects in May 2011.)

Greenmoore Gardens already has a Children’s Garden – site of some of last season’s on-farm family events. They’re also almost done putting in a community-supported kitchen, to host more cooking and food preservation classes and other social events.

After hosting kids during school field trips, the next step toward eventually building a farm-focused school is starting a summer farm camp for kids. Mark’s crews have already built three of a planned six wooden tent platforms for canvas bunkhouses (16’ x 24’ to 16’ x 32’), and he’s mapped out a three-year draft budget. The tent platforms could also be used for farmstay family camping, similar to packages offered at Featherdown in Walton, New York.

Mark has also been lobbying at the municipal level for more mixed use zoning, and supporting state legislation to bar frivolous lawsuits by farm visitors, making it easier to get insurance for farms that invite people on-farm for hay rides, corn mazes, camps, etc.

Other people who have indicated interest in setting up farming programs for kids include Sarah Potter (thinkstart@mac.com) – PSU Horticulture Graduate, former science teacher and farm educator; and Brian Burger (newharmonyfarmstead@hotmail.com) – Farmer at New Harmony Farmstead, Farm Educator with Penns Valley Learning Garden and Penns Valley Conservation Association. Another possible resource is Kelle Kersten (magicjubilee@yahoo.com ); she’s organized and run environmental education programs for kids at Ahimsa Village in Julian.

Public Orchards – Installation, Maintenance, Harvest & Preservation

A couple years ago, I wrote to Alan Sam (asam@statecollegepa.gov), Environmental Coordinator for Borough to see if there were any programs to allow people to buy fruit and nut trees to put in public orchards. Alan wrote back describing his efforts as Borough arborist since 1989, planting fruit trees at Orchard Park. In correspondence since then, he’s indicated interest in seeing a volunteer crew trained to take care of the Orchard Park fruit trees and other potential public orchards and gardens around town, because the Borough public works staff has limited time and must focus primarily on safety issues.

Dana Stuchul – (dana@veggiecommons.org), founder of VeggieCommons, set up a meeting last week with Alan, Joyce Eveleth (jeveleth@statecollegepa.gov), Environmental AmeriCorps Member with the Borough, and Courtney Hayden (chayden@statecollegepa.gov), Grants & Communications Coordinator, to talk about applying for one of the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation‘s grants to plant community orchards.

Other people who have indicated interest in planting and maintaining public orchards include Charlie White (cmw29@psu.edu), with the Sustainable Ag Working Group at PSU Cooperative Extension, who’s interested in joining a team to prune, maintain and harvest the orchards near Rockview prison; and Jackie Bonomo (jabonomo@verizon.net), who has her own backyard fruit trees, formerly worked at Tait Farm where apple tree pruning was one of her jobs, and belongs to the Backyard Fruit Growers centered in Lancaster county. Jackie’s offered to teach an apple pruning workshop at Orchard Park, tentatively planned for Feb. 18 pending Borough approval.

PSU Farm-to-Table Program

This baby chick has grown into a pullet and moved out of the brooder box into its own space, with an overview post, some resources for farmers interested in selling food to Penn State’s residential dining halls and a contact list for people actively working on the project.

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