Rural group to match kitchens with food producers

The Recorder, December 7, 2017, by Diane Broncaccio

CHARLEMONT — Rural Commonwealth is hoping to match up West County kitchens with local farms and small-batch food producers who need access to affordable, local commercial-kitchen space.

“We know agriculture is the number one industry for West County, but there are not that many people doing value-added production,” said Beth Bandy of Charlemont, co-director of Rural Commonwealth. “We saw a need for this kind of service. We know of people making food at home who want to scale upward.”

“Value-added” food production enables growers to make more profit from what they’ve grown — for instance, by selling flour made out of their wheat, or selling strawberry jam made from their strawberries, tomato sauces made from locally grown tomatoes.

Food-producers looking for kitchens in which to make sauces, jams, baked goods, and other foods to sell are asked to complete an online questionnaire at:

Those connected to a church, school or other West County organization with a commercial kitchen, which might be available for use, are asked to contact Rural Commonwealth by phone or email.

This is a pilot project for Rural Commonwealth, which recently incorporated as a nonprofit organization to strengthen roughly 170 rural towns in Massachusetts through network development, communication of community needs, and local problem-solving projects.

“Small farms produce smaller batches of products, which don’t fit in large plants designed for mass distribution,” says Bandy, on the organization’s website. “Creative solutions are needed so that small farms can get their products processed for marketing. We do know that some production is ‘hidden’ — in that it takes place on the farm (maple syrup and maple candies, for instance). Still, reaching consumers remains a barrier.”

Bandy said she and co-director Toby Gould have been reaching out to people in West County who manage commercial kitchens, to find out how they are run, when they are already being used, and what would be required if others were to use their facilities. She said the group has a list of about two dozen commercial kitchens in West County.

In its West County Business Report, Rural Commonwealth says many West County food products are made in small quantities or are seasonal. “While large food production facilities can be found, they are both geographically distant and at a scale that is not appropriate for small producers,” says the report. “We want to pursue the possibility of using existing Board of Health-approved kitchens to produce batch products …”

“Small businesses in West County often have difficulty buying major equipment that they use only partially or part-time,” the report continues. “Working with local businesses, we will explore options for shared services, such as refrigerated distribution trucks and mobile processing units.”