Led by a growing focus on locally-grown food, farmers markets and the need for entrepreneurship, the county’s community commercial kitchen is getting some much needed attention.
From Kitchen Cabinet to Creative Food Ventures to Ashe County Commercial Kitchen, the facility at Family Central has gone through a few different names since its inception in 2006, but the basic premise remains the same – a place for area residents to cook, create and conduct business.
A few of those interested in its possibilities took a tour Saturday morning.
Leading the tour was Rhonda Church with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, who was acting as a volunteer for this tour. She has managed the kitchen and also bakes wedding cakes there.
“This is like an entrepreneurship process,” Church said. “We can help you get started.”
There is interest, Church said, from a couple of caterers, a bread-maker, a sandwich-maker from Boone, and someone planning to prepare Eastern North Carolina style barbecue with a smoker, hopefully by this summer.
“It’s amazing how much food you can cook here,” she said. “Three people can feed 300 catering from here.”
Classes in catering are available through Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a similar commercial kitchen facility outside Asheville, added Hollis Wild, a kitchen committee member attending the tour.
Also on the tour were Mel Weiss, director of programs, and Lauri Wilson, project manager, for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture “Seeds of Change” initiative.
“Seeds is a pilot program with a real opportunity to bring people together,” said Wilson.
According to information provided last year by Weiss, the Seeds of Change initiative that is privately funded through Heifer USA is a new multi-year, multi-million dollar grant to help build upon the emerging local food movement to foster economic development and improve access to nutritious, locally produced food among under-served populations. Heifer USA is a non-profit based in Arkansas working with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth.
You can learn more about this program on Monday, Feb. 27 through a Seeds of Change Coalition meeting at Family Central. The program will begin at 11 a.m. with a presentation of Heifer USA Seeds of Change Initiative and project deliverables, followed by lunch and an afternoon program on interactive training and solution-based assessments, ending with a tour of the commercial kitchen.
To attend the meeting, please RSVP by 5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21 to Cindy Douglas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tour of the kitchen will be approximately 2:45 p.m.
“This facility is a great resource many don’t know about, or what is available,” said Weiss of the commercial kitchen.
Anyone wishing to learn more about Ashe County Commercial Kitchen can contact Missy Cruey through the Ashe Partnership at 982-4588 or email email@example.com.
There will be another opportunity to tour the kitchen in March during a Seed Swap program of Cooperative Extension.
The kitchen is permitted through Ashe County government and overseen by the Partnership, which is headquartered at Family Central. Those using the kitchen are presented a key in order to access the facility at any time. Equipment available for use includes stoves, dehydrator, warmers, commercial food processor, kettles, pressure canners, fried pie maker, refrigerated and frozen storage, and dry storage.
Cost to use the kitchen is $15, and Church said, “You can do an amazing amount of things in an hour if you have everything ready to go.” There are also costs per month for use of storage.
Users of the kitchen must have product liability insurance for their own products and processes if selling their products. ServeSafe training will be provided in Ashe in April and November. Contact Cooperative Extension at 846-5850 for information. The kitchen has an insurance policy for the facility and equipment.
Currently, raw meat cannot be processed at the commercial kitchen, but an effort is underway to investigate that possibility. Church said it would require USDA inspection of the facility used, and most likely the need for a separate facility.
Meat processing is on the wish list for the kitchen, said Church, along with a flash freezer and a full-time kitchen manager.