One of the main problems facing local food systems, including small farmers and entrepreneurs, is food processing and storage. Because some food crops tend to ripen all at once, without appropriate processing and storage facilities there is a risk that much of the crop will simply go to waste. Although here at Hampshire College we have commercial kitchens to handle our farm-to-plate processing, many small farmers and/or food producers are not so lucky. For instance, a would-be entrepreneur might want to market a terrific hot sauce, curry, or soup, but lacks not only the sales and marketing skills that would be necessary for any small business to succeed, but also the facilities to safely and legally process and store the product itself for retail sale.
Fortunately, here in Western Mass we have a local food hub that is equipped to address these needs. Recently, I took a trip to the Franklin County Community Development Corporation (FCCDC) to see what services they had to offer.
The FCCDC is a non-profit small business development center and food hub operating out of Greenfield, MA. People with food product ideas (or, in fact, any small business ideas) can bring their proposals to the FCCDC for review to see if the concept is feasible from a business perspective, and, if so, to develop a solid business plan. If the product is a food item, once the business plan is developed, the FCCDC can provide a variety of levels of support, from essentially making the product for the entrepreneur to simply providing the kitchen and storage space for business owners to make the products themselves.
In the video below, Liz Buxton, the Food Processing Center Manager, describes the various services that are offered. Note the IQF (Individual Quick Freezing) processor at 4:28. This processor uses liquid nitrogen to rapidly freeze small servings of food (in this case, carrots), a process which allows the food to retain its cellular integrity, color, shape, smell, and taste to a far greater extent than traditional slow freezing methods.
Will Hampshire College wind up using any of the FCCDC’s services? It is hard to say. Our dining hall has need of freezer space, which the FCCDC can provide, but whether the FCCDC offers the appropriate solution for our particular needs or whether we will find a different solution remains to be seen. However, for other local small farmers or food entrepreneurs, the FCCDC may be just what is needed.