5.11.2011

The Local Food Report: community kitchens

Jennifer Joslin didn't plan on starting a pasta sauce business. She had three kids, picky kids, and the two things they really liked were pasta and pizza. She figured the easiest way to get carrots and green beans and cabbage into them was to sneak it into their tomato sauce, and so she did.


Then it hit her: Eat Your Vegetables! Maybe, just maybe, she could support her family and help other parents put a healthy meal on the table by turning this pasta sauce into a business. The thing was, she didn't have the money to buy equipment and build a certified kitchen. Building a kitchen is expensive, hugely expensive, and she wasn't even sure yet if this idea was going to work. Then she found out about the Dartmouth Grange.

The story behind grange is this: a few years ago, a group of Dartmouth residents noticed that their grange, their historic community hall, was sitting largely unused. They wanted to change that. They also wanted to help Dartmouth stay rural, but still boost agricultural and economic development. So they raised money to put a 2,000 square foot addition on the historic hall, complete with a steam kettle, braising pan, stovetop range, several ovens, and a filling machine—in short, a complete clean, certified, licensed kitchen space. Then they established a rate—the kitchen costs about $33 per hour to rent—and opened the doors to the public.

For Jennifer, it was the perfect place. She could start her pasta sauce company with very, very little overhead, and even less of an investment risk. All she was really buying besides the time was the vegetables and the glass jars, and hey! if the company never took off, she and her family could eat that commercially-certified shelf-stable sauce for for years.

But the company did take off. Within a few months, Jennifer had her sauce in two markets, and after a year, she now sells it in sixteen. (And one of those is a Whole Foods!) Parents liked that it had six vegetables (tomatoes, carrots, garlic, green beans, eggplant, and red cabbage) and that two of them were often from local farms (the carrots and the eggplants) and that it was appealing to their kids.

Recently Jennifer moved to another shared use kitchen—a community kitchen with a bigger steam kettle at How on Earth in Mattapoisett—so that she could make larger batches. Hers is a story of community kitchen success.

She's met lots of other people who got their businesses off the ground in community kitchens, too. There are granola makers, pickles, jammers, and all sorts of folks, all producing small-scale, local, artisanal products in these two kitchens. It's pretty cool.

You can find out more about Jennifer's pasta sauce, Eat Your Vegetables!, over here. For a link to the Dartmouth Grange kitchen head on over here, and you can learn more about the shared used kitchen at How on Earth in Mattapoisett over here.

Happy dreaming, everyone.

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.