Economic Development Can Wear an Apron!


May 3, 2010

IF there were a list of only a few things that a community could do to spur economic growth I am a firm believe near the very top of the list should be designing, building and running a ‘community kitchen’!

Be it a small village or a urban area like Anchorage, any area can do it.  In fact larger cities than Anchorage and small towns like our villages already do have them in many parts of the United States.

Community kitchens are just what  they sound like: food-preparation facilities that can be used by communities. What makes this more than just another coffee klatch at the neighbor’s house is that these kitchens are officially open to everyone. And larger ones can be commercially certified, so that cooks who prepare things here can sell their products, according to Come to the Table (pdf). p 24

These facilities don’t have to be very big or complex. They don’t need a high  priced consultant to be designed. There are lots of sources for ideas and specification can be found on the Internet.

It can start out as simple as good sinks, work areas, refrigeration and possibly freezer storage. Equipment can be added as demand  shows the need. The local food safety department ,or in Alaska, our state DEC office can assist you on what is needed to be ‘commercially certified’. It is not as complex or hard as it might look.

Facilities such as a community kitchen can serve many needs. From the basics of being a place where people can gather to do large volume cooking needs, such as community celebrations or potlatches.

It can be used as a place for people who want to develop food products to sell. They develop their ‘process’ to the point they feel it is ready for production. Then working with the state on that process to get it certified so it can be replicated in a safe manner by anyone. No, you do not have to share your secret formulas!  Then you are ready to go with a few more basic business steps.

Products such as jellies from local fruits, a favorite smoked fish recipe or even a pet treat turned into something that can be sold over the Internet are  things that can be developed in a community kitchen.

Things like cooking classes for new moms on the how to get your kids to eat more veggies or an elder passing on some of their special recipes can also use a facility like this.

Someone who wants to start a catering business would not have to invest in all the equipment immediately and instead build the demand for their services first, using one of these kitchens. Then maybe go onto open a small eatery?

Community Kitchens most often charge a small fee, usually daily or hourly, for the use of the facility that is then used to maintain and/or upgrade the facility. Most communities get the initial facility built by using grants. This is an easy and excellent use for those villages that have CDQ monies and can be done easily done in  total as an ‘local effort’, keeping as much of the monies local and costs down.

One such effort, of a half dozen in southern Wisconsin county has spawned dozens of food based companies.

“The real goal, in addition to sustainability, is economic development,” said Dan Viste, owner of the Mazomanie Heritage Kitchen and Market, which opened late last year. “

Leaders of the various kitchens in those counties coordinate efforts through their extension service. They have built networks to share everything from ideas to some equipment and contacts. Some offer marketing and technical assistance to help get products and businesses up and running.

Amongst a number of us at more than one table at the Western SARE meeting in Fairbanks, there was a healthy discussion on this subject and its benefits to a number of areas in the state. We got into quite a discussion on pet treats from salmon alone!! A billion dollar market…pets!

Having a place where villagers could prepare subsistence foods for those in urban areas who would want to buy them, is another idea. They can also serve as training facilities for those who are disabled to learn more hands on skills. Even as places for school groups to make products they can sell for fund raisers.

There continues to be a rise in holistic products, like a caribou leaf salve I get from a lady in Juneau to help with joint pain, and this can serve as a base for these ideas as well.

The ideas mentioned here are but just a few . I have to think there are so many more. It would be great to get an idea of what all you are thinking from your village or city. What can you see being developed from your area?

Given all the creativity of people, it would be great to hear other ideas you all felt could be developed with the help of a facility such as this.

Victoria Briggs~

photos courtesy of finnskimo

Cassidy and Maddisen are making The Perfect Gift!


14 Responses to “Economic Development Can Wear an Apron!”

  1. jim Says:

    I wonder if a food bank and a community kitchen could be integrated into one facility.

    A more minor note: at Costco I noticed something I hadn’t seen before– a 60 dollar electric powered pressure cooker. This made me think about villages because sometimes electricity, although very expensive, may be cheaper than propane. Pressure cookers are very efficient and consume minimal energy. I’d assume people in the bush often use pressure cookers for canning and game meat. This electric one is probably too small for canning but would be great for moose stew.

  2. InJuneau Says:

    Ooo, glad I’m not the only one who loves Flo’s salve!

  3. ugavic Says:


    There are community kitchens that also operate as a base for the local food banks, and also some ‘brown bag’ operations for different groups.

    I am not sure how the cost per BTU on cooking fuels comparisons run in the various villages, and it might differ widely. Will have to ask around and see if any really knows.

    Pressure cookers are a great thing either way and I know many families share one amongst themselves to help put food stores for the winter. We would not be without ours and I believe most in our village feel that way.

    Also cast iron cookers are popular for those of us who use the no electric diesel burning stoves. It gives us the opportunity to have food cook all day in a low energy mode that is also heating the house.

    Ohhhh yes on that great stuff Flo makes!!! Was turned onto it last year and I have a thumb that would not be without it :-))

  4. jim Says:

    Duh? Never heard of Flo. Who’s Flo? Did she have a problem with her pressure cooker?

    Pressure cookers are a trip– the more pressure, the bigger the trip. I’ve got a couple good stories myself (“when pressure cookers go bad”) unfortunately in the non-fiction category.

    i spotted Flo in Wikipedia, but please enlighten silly ignorant me.

  5. alaskapi Says:

    Jim- Flo is one of our favorite neighbors here…

  6. jim Says:

    alaskapi: thanks; finally I’ve uh, figured it out.

    My great grandfather, who lived to be 110 in far northern California, had a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast each morning and drank a bit of wine but no whiskey. I love the picture in the paper of him getting his driver’s license renewed when he turned 100. He was a grumpy old guy.

  7. Martha Unalaska Yard Sign Says:

    Great post, Vic – lots of food for thought. Literally. I started my own fancy dog biscuit business a few years ago, but lack of a decent sized kitchen was the biggest factor in deciding it wasn’t going to be profitable. There are so many things which could be enjoyed, learned and accomplished with the community kitchen idea.

    Flo Kenney’s salve has made its way around the world, in spite of her closely guarded secret preparation and the small production. Part of what draws you in to try it is her cherubic smile and her earnestness. Part of it is also that she’s Tlingit native (Southeast Alaska tribe) and we can easily believe that she has secrets of the earth tucked away in her head when she tells of her upbringing and how she learned to make her herbal tonics and salve. I first bought it because it was “exotic and mysterious”. Now I can’t live without it because it works!

    I would love to see Rural Alaskans develop more local products and food to share among their communities, and with the rest of the world.

  8. Elsie Says:

    This discussion made me think of the Mormon church in my hometown. I didn’t grow up knowing any Mormons themselves, but I always knew there was a church for them in town.

    Later, as an adult, I learned that the Mormon church takes care of its own. My understanding comes from conversations with a Mormon mom, who, like me, volunteered at the elementary school our children attended. So, it’s not based on my own direct experiences.

    From her, I learned that each church community (a “ward”? a “stake”?) becomes a supplier of some basic food product that it prepares for the good of the entire group. Our hometown group of Mormons apparently produced peanut butter in substantial quantities that was used to help other Mormons in need. To me, that is a “community kitchen” with a purpose, a use and a mission.

    Any other community group with a desire and need to help its people could come together and do likewise, whether for religious, charitable, or financial reasons.

    I wonder if there is a national organization of community kitchens somewhere?

  9. Man_from_Unk Says:

    If we can only provide an opportunity for some people, they will succeed. A “community kitchen” sounds like a good idea but there will have to be a person in charge who’d hold the kitchen users responsible for leaving it as found. Otherwise it’d be trashed soon and equipment will disappear.

  10. alaskapi Says:

    Am hoping we have some community kitchens on board by the time these youngsters are ready to take on their futures!

    We have at least one project to develop a community kitchen which has been funded and developed…

    “How Rural Development
    Helped: USDA Rural Development
    provided a grant of $26,300 through the
    Community Facilities Program.
    Those funds
    were used to upgrade the buildings to the point
    where they can be used by the community.
    Improvements upgrading the kitchen fire
    extinguisher system, installing more fuelefficient
    stoves; rebuilding two entry stairs and
    deicing, repairing and improving the well
    systems, installing heat tape so that it won’t
    freeze in temperatures that range to -60.
    The Results: The Kenny Lake community, located off the Edgerton Highway
    between Glennallen and Valdez, now has two usable public buildings, including one with
    a State-approved community kitchen

  11. Martha Unalaska Yard Sign Says:

    This Canadian website has a wealth of information! I doubt this would work in small villages w/o a working model to learn from first, and cultural translations for ideas & local traditions – but I do think it could be a great possibility for the larger villages and towns where there is more diversity & entrepreneurial spirit to start with.

  12. ugavic Says:

    My exposure with Community Kitchens is but one of a few different working models, but worked well in the pretty small town I was in living in at the time.

    We had a small panel of volunteer board members. We hired a part time manager who basically did the paperwork and opened the facility for people renting it.

    We were charged a hourly or daily fee, depending on how much we needed.

    There was an agreement on cleaning and damage, basically left it as found or extra fees. Any damage had to be reported, a walk through was done each time it was rented, and if due to neglect was charged.
    Improvements were most often done via either fund raisers or grants.

    It would be nice if we could get a few around the rural parts of the state, in hub towns might be a place to start.

    Something tells me that once people saw a few examples of things that came from one we would be surprised by all the ideas others would come up with.

    I am always amazed at all the ideas that the Alaska Marketplace contest gets as ideas!! Might be nice to see one contest specifically run with a kitchen to spur more…you never know!

  13. GreatGranny2C Says:

    The concept sounds like a truly wonderful one could offer so many benefits to a community! It reminds me of a story I read last year in one of the Nashville TN newpapers, about a small town in northern Alabama. When the economy took such a nosedive and people were losing their jobs and homes left and right, a campground became a tent city for the jobless and/or homeless, virtually overnight. The campground owners were elderly and the operation was more of a hobby for them to fill their latter years as opposed to essential income. They sflashed their rates to rock-bottom, even pro-rating for many based on what income they might have. There was a fairly large activity building that combined the owners’ small apartment, office, bathrooms and shower stalls, coin laundromat, and all-purpose lounge/gameroom.

    The only kitchen facility was an efficiency as part of their apartment. Under normal circumstances, most campers either had cooking facilities in their campers, or tenters would use the open firepits and grills. To make a long story short, businesses and local residents from the surrounding communities helped to furnish the lounge area with a number of stoves, refrigerators, sinks, small appliances, tables, chairs, dishes, etc.. Electricians and plumbers also donated their services to hook up the variety of items. Several of the churches started food drives to collect non-perishables.
    Within a couple of weeks, a community kitchen had been set up and in operation.

    Families would bring in whatever they had for that evening’s meal, and all would join in the cooking and have hearty meals – similar to potlucks where you might have a little of this and a little of that, but not a whole lot of any one thing. It was share and share alike and if some didn’t have as much to contribute, no questions were asked, the food was there for all. It was truly a lifesaver for many, and those who were finally able to re-establish themselves continue to make donations to this day. There are still some of the original families residing there, it is on the school bus route and one reporter tells that the kids do homework at the tables while adults are cleaning up, just relaxing, etc., and many of the adults jump in and help the kids with their schoolwork and grades are good for them, as well as having very few discipline problems. A strong sense of community has evolved from the whole experience for both the residents of the town, as well as those at the campground.

    So that is the one and only community kitchen that I’m aware of here in the lower 48. I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t more in other areas. When it comes right down to it amd the need is obviously there, many people jump into it and give a hand where they can.

    I hope the concept will grow and be successful all over Alaska.

  14. alaskapi Says:

    This is exciting!
    Now they just need a community kitchen!

    “Fairbanks is a hotbed for community supported farms
    by Molly Rettig

    “Fairbanks is the Mecca for CSAs,” said Michelle Hebert, agriculture and horticulture agent at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

    “We have more CSAs than other regions of Alaska. This is where you see the most farmers utilizing the model,” she said. ”

    Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – Fairbanks is a hotbed for community supported farms

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