DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Penquis region farmers will be surveyed in the next few weeks to determine interest in a shared community kitchen in which they could process their produce.
The Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District has been pondering the construction of a shared kitchen in recent years to help farmers add value to their products.
About 10 farmers responded to an earlier district survey, and they indicated a need for a dairy facility where they could make yogurt and cheese, according to Sheila Richard, the district’s executive director.
“We got a lot of feedback,” Richard said of the earlier survey. Most people are interested in a dairy facility, which appears to be a need in the county, she added. Richard said some farmers either sell from their homes or don’t sell at all because they’re not licensed. “If they had a facility … these products would be out there,” she said.
The district — with help from the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, which secured a $3,500 Maine Community Foundation grant — will now cast a wider net to gauge support for the venture. The district is eyeing the construction of a facility on land on the Milo Road or may look to convert one of Piscataquis County’s closed schools that has kitchen facilities, according to Richard. “There are options out there,” she said Monday.
“A shared-use kitchen for farmers and others interested in becoming food entrepreneurs can provide sustainable economic development in Piscataquis County,” Janet Sawyer, business development director for the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, said recently.
A shared-use kitchen facility often works in rural areas where cost and regulatory factors make it difficult for small producers to do it on their own, according to Sawyer, who obtained the foundation grant on behalf of the district. A shared kitchen, also known as a community kitchen, would provide farmers and small-scale food entrepreneurs space to prepare and process value-added food for consumer marketing, the first step toward larger-scale production capacity, she said in a press release.
Richard and Sawyer said farmers will be asked what products they need to process to identify equipment needs, such as commercial ovens, ranges, mixers, industrial food processors and freezers.
Farmers not contacted through the survey are encouraged to let the district know of their interests and needs. Richard said the district hopes to have the survey completed by the August board meeting. The district will then search for grants to help fund the kitchen project.