The story below is a preview from our September/October 2016 issue. For the full story Subscribe today, view our FREE interactive digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Something new is cooking over on Patterson Avenue, thanks to LEAP (Local Environmental Agriculture Project Inc.). Founded to increase local food access in Roanoke and to help small-scale farmers have reliable market access to sell their local produce, their mission is to nurture healthy communities and resilient local food systems by way of connecting local farmers, food producers, culinary entrepreneurs and community members.
In 2015, the LEAP Mobile Market hit the streets—they purchase local produce and sell it in low-income, low-access neighborhoods in Roanoke City. Most recently, in April 2016, LEAP opened The Kitchen, a shared commercial kitchen and food business incubator and the only one of its kind in the region.
As a shared commercial and food business incubator, the Kitchen allows existing and start-up food businesses to prepare and package food that can then be purchased at Community Markets, retail stores and restaurants. While this is a great benefit for food entrepreneurs (chefs, caterers, bakers), it’s also available for individuals and farmers to make other products (for example, turning your tomatoes into salsa).
Organizations and community groups can also teach cooking and nutrition classes, encouraging others to get excited about food and health. The Kitchen is also used for hosting events such as pop-up dinners and canning parties.
Executive Director Maureen Best says that response has been overwhelmingly positive, with countless promotions through social media outlets, media coverage, and the like. Interested parties so far include private cooking classes, organizers of World Refugee Day, a local high school’s booster club, food trucks, and many more. Staff have given dozens of tours and received numerous applications, with three signed contracts as of print time (those clients will use The Kitchen regularly for catering events and to sell at farmers markets).
“The Kitchen is perfect for existing food businesses looking to expand (perhaps to move from home production to commercial production) and for entrepreneurs who are ready to launch their own food business,” says Best. “We’re more than just a commercial kitchen. LEAP provides assistance with business planning, food safety, regulatory compliance, product marketing and distribution. Community kitchens that provide these services have more successful tenant businesses and better long-term success.”
The Kitchen provides new opportunities for businesses, including diversifying their product offerings and market outlets, and expanding local food options for consumers and restaurants. LEAP will also provide additional support tailored to new entrepreneurs from low-income backgrounds through the Food Start-Up Program (start in fall 2016).
Low-income entrepreneurs face additional challenges, particularly lack of access to credit and less access to existing business development resources. The Food Start-Up Program will provide these entrepreneurs with targeted education and support, as well as benefits including rent-free kitchen time.
Check out their website leapforlocalfood.org/kitchen to learn more, including user policies, equipment and floor plan. Contact Sam Lev (email@example.com) to schedule a tour.