Packing their own farm-grown flax into 1.6-kg pails for sales to local stores didn’t require a lot of processing infrastructure, but it did require some.
That’s when St. Pierre farmer Murielle Bugera turned to her community’ a museum kitchen – a provincially inspected facility – to complete her packaging and labelling. It saved her money she’d otherwise have had to spend upgrading her own facilities and the local museum earned extra revenue from her as a temporary tenant.
Bugera started packaging flax after learning people in her own community wanted it, but didn’t even necessarily know flax was grown nearby.
“It was basically to promote local product,” she said.
She often hears of others who, like her, need access to facilities such as these for some small-scale processing.
She encourages others to pursue these “rent-a-community-kitchen” arrangements.
In 2007, then economic development officer of the Chaboille Community Development Corporation, Bugera and the CDC took the idea further, with a feasibility study and even proposed using the St. Pierre kitchen as a pilot test site.
The problem they saw then, as now, was the limited use of these kitchens even as would-be small-scale food processors were restricted to what they could sell retail or at farmers’ markets due to public health regulations. Certain types of foods cannot be prepared in home kitchens if they are made available for public sale.
Their feasibility study explored how this could make better use of underutilized community kitchens and identified various challenges and opportunities such a concept presented.
The test site project went on hold, however, after internal changes within the Chaboille itself.
But the need hasn’t gone away, said Bugera who spoke about the “rent-a-kitchen” concept at the Growing Local conference last month. She continues to hear of those needing somewhere to do some simple, valueadded processing, and of community kitchens sitting idle much of the time. People talk about need for these local “mini” Food Development Centres, she said.
“I think there are still steps needing to be taken to increase the availability of community kitchen space,” Bugera said.
Joy Lorette, acting business development specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, who also spoke at Growing Local, said she and other MAFRI collegues regularly hear from clients looking for inspected facilities to pursue a food-processing venture.
At the same time, they also see provincially inspected hall and church kitchens sitting unused.
“We work with clients and we see the need,” said Lorette. “And we know that there’s community halls and churches and those kinds of things out there that need income.”
Interest in renting a kitchen appears strong. Lorette and Bugera’s Growing Local presentation packed the room with nearly 100 participants. Many were farmers market vendors who expressed interest in doing some valueadded processing but not needing sophisticated infrastructure.
Julie Currie of Winnipeg, who grows a vegetable garden and sells produce at the Lac du Bonnet farmers’ market, said access to a kitchen could provide her with a clean water source. Right now the only way she can wash her harvested vegetables to ready them for market is to truck water to the garden site.
“Community kitchens would be great for people like myself,” she said. “We’re gardening just outside a main centre and we need a place to do our preparatory processing.”
“Ithinktherearestillsteps needingtobetakento increasetheavailabilityof communitykitchenspace.”
– Murielle Bugera, St. Pierre-Jolys-Area Farmer