Connecting Food Businesses With Local Farmers

As an incubator or commissary kitchen, you provide needed safe, clean, and legal space in which food businesses can prepare their goods for sale.  However, depending on your business model, you can provide additional value with just a bit more work.  An easy way to do that is to help link the food businesses to the local community.  Connecting food businesses with local farms is one great way to do this.  Clients get fresher produce or meat, as well as marketing differentiation.  Farms get a new source of demand. It can be a true win-win!

First, which connections make sense for your food business clients?  A small meal prep kit service is a good candidate, whereas a large brownie manufacturer may not be a good fit.  A caterer may be looking for a steady supply of local vegetables to differentiate themselves.  Also consider seasonality.  In most areas of the USA, farms only produce for part of the year.  Does anyone in your kitchen pickle? They might be interested in partnering with local producers.

If you think there may be clients in your kitchen who would benefit from connections to the local food production scene, a great place to start is your extension office, which will be able to point you to farmers who may be a fit.  You can also reach out directly to the local farmer’s market coordinator, as they will have knowledge of the local producers. Finally, many cities are creating food policy councils to help guides these types of partnerships and increase food access. Johns Hopkins has worked on mapping these councils as has food justice advocate Mark Winne.

Once you have the names of a local farmer, offer to have them come in to do a talk or ask about getting a tour of the farm. Alternatively, collect the names of interested clients and make introductions over email.  Note that during the high season, farmers work seventy or more hours a week, so wintertime may be a better time to pursue these connections.

You can also offer benefits to farmers as a space provider.  Whether that is hosting events featuring local produce, helping farmers learn how to produce value add products to give them an additional source of income or providing a fridge for farmers to sell their produce on consignment. One of our favorite examples of space is The Good Acre in Minnesota with ample cold and dry storage for food entrepreneurs AND farmers!

Farmers and shared-use kitchens can and should go hand-in-hand. Need more information on this? Check out the USDA’s Know Your Farmer Know Your Food Compass for supporting case studies and data.  Is your kitchen already connecting food business clients with farmers? Let us know and we’ll spread the word!

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