Cold storage to extend local food availability
A persistent barrier for small food start-up businesses is the upfront cost of infrastructure. Shared kitchens that provide equipment, storage space, and even training and business technical assistance play an important role in helping entrepreneurs successfully prototype, launch and scale up their ideas.
As the market increasingly demands more locally-grown and processed foods year-round, cold-storage space has become critical for businesses trying to meet that need. In an effort to provide that infrastructure, the Franklin County Community Development Corporation’s Western Mass Food Processing Center opened its cold-storage center in December 2017. Two large rooms, one a freezer and the other a refrigerator, are filled with tall shelving and separated by a large door. “This new storage facility is much more efficient, in terms of staff time, energy, and simplified logistics,” explains Food Systems Program Manager Joanna Benoit.
The expansion will enable the food businesses that produce in the Center’s kitchen to store more perishable ingredients and final products. Farmers with a glut of produce will also be able to keep it in cold storage and sell it at a more profitable time of year, or process it into value-added goods that can be sold year-round.
The Center will also be able to process and store more individual quick-frozen vegetables for its own brand. For over five years, the Center has been buying produce from local farmers—often seconds or surplus crops. The Center then chops and blanches the vegetables, and freezes them using liquid nitrogen to preserve nutrition, color, and structural integrity. Produce is often harvested and frozen within 24 hours, guaranteeing peak freshness. Boxes of frozen vegetables are sold to local schools. The Center also hopes to expand its market to hospitals and universities, as well as retail outlets.
In the 17 years the Western Mass Food Processing Center has been open, over 350 businesses, including many farmers, have paid to use the large-scale processing equipment in the kitchen. Many small businesses that began making their products in this incubator kitchen have grown to the point that they have been able to build their own processing spaces.
Real Pickles, for example, which buys organic vegetables from local farmers to make a variety of raw fermented pickles began processing at the Center in 2002. By 2009 they were able to purchase and renovate their own energy efficient kitchen and they are now a worker co-operative, employing many local people.