The movement towards localizing the food system has increased the need for an alternative regional aggregation and distribution system as well as improved technical assistance in season extension, product and market development, and food safety. It is also creating the demand for food hubs, food business incubators, shared commercial kitchens, and co-packing services across the region. Food processing combines raw food ingredients to produce marketable food products that can be easily prepared and served by the consumer. Food processing typically involves activities such as peeling, cutting, emulsification, and cooking; pickling, pasteurization, freezing and many other kinds of preservation; and packaging.
Community of Practice
The New England Food Processors Community of Practice (CoP) was formed to create a culture of collaboration and teamwork among the team members located around New England and to take advantage of established relationships and networks.
Currently, it includes seven members who represent processing facilities in New England: the Franklin County Community Development Corporation (Greenfield, MA), the Vermont Food Venture Center (Hardwick, VT), Mad River Food Hub (Waitsfield, VT), Northern Girl (Van Buren, ME), CommonWealth Kitchen (Dorchester, MA), Farm Fresh RI (Pawtucket, RI), and Hope & Main (Warren, RI).
In 2016, the CoP analyzed the unique characteristics of the various food processors in the region, comparing what is working well and what is most challenging. Together CoP members discovered ways that they can improve operations, increase institutional sales efforts, explore new marketing opportunities, and better support emerging processors.
Want to learn more about what services these local food processing facilities offer?
Photo Above: Tia from Tia's Cakes & Pastries crafts her delicious cake-in-a-jar at CommonWealth Kitchen. Photo by Lucas Mudler.
What's so great about processed local food?
Lightly processed local food represents an intersection of values and convenience. It reflects basic economics (ex: tomatoes in July, Aug, Sept can be sold at a higher profit in the winter, so it's smart to preserve your harvest when supply is high) and allows food service providers to meet the requests of their eaters for local food.
Where and when does processed local food makes sense?
Processed local food makes sense when there is an abundance of harvested product that does not have a ready market and when there are buyers who are willing to pay for pre-cut, washed, blanched or otherwise processed products due to lack of time, equipment, or skills.
Photo at Right: Veggie fries made with local potatoes, carrots and beets at Northern Girl in Maine are a big hit in cafeterias.
Want the latest news from the food processing facilities in our group? Visit our column on the FINE blog!
Coming soon: an introduction to the community of practice, definitions of different processing facility types, how farmers can get involved, and more
CommonWealth Kitchen is greater Boston's non-profit food business incubator and small-batch contract manufacturer. We employ 12+ staff. CommonWealth provides shared kitchen space for approximately 45 member companies, who altogether employ more than 125 people. We also provide a range of contract manufacturing services to local farmers, wholesalers, retailers and restaurants.
Farm Fresh Rhode Island is a hub for fresh, healthy food. Farm Fresh RI is growing a local food system that values the environment, health, and quality of life of RI farmers and eaters. Part incubator, part activator, our programs grow the local food system by building capacity in three areas: producers, markets, and eaters. Our Harvest Kitchen currently operates processing and educational kitchens at a rented kitchen near the Wintertime Market in Pawtucket and inside the RI Training School in Cranston. Discussions are underway for a future site in Newport.
Hope & Main is Rhode Island’s first culinary business incubator. They help local entrepreneurs jump-start early-stage food companies and food related businesses by providing low-cost, low-risk access to shared-use commercial kitchens and other industry-specific technical resources. Their goal is to help grow the local food economy by creating a community of support for food entrepreneurs and cultivating an environment where emerging culinary startups can test, create, scale and thrive.
The Mad River Food Hub is a fully equipped, licensed vegetable and USDA inspected meat processing facility located in Waitsfield, Vermont. Each processing room is available for rent by the day, the facility also offers dry, refrigerated and frozen storage as well as weekly distribution services to retail markets throughout the Mad River Valley, Waterbury, Montpelier, and Burlington. The experienced staff on site can also provide valuable business planning assistance, HACCP plan development, and access to a vast network of other food enterprises. The facility is uniquely designed for the small-scale food producer who needs a licensed facility at an affordable rate, allowing them to grow their business, one step at a time.
Northern Girl has closed. They are currently seeking a buyer.
Northern Girl produces the finest organic and conventional fresh cut and flash-frozen vegetables for institutional, restaurant and consumer enjoyment. The company hopes to keep Maine at the forefront of the local foods movement and keep the economy thriving by rebuilding Maine’s lost food processing infrastructure, creating added-value for the products of a multitude of small farms to bring opportunity to growers in Maine’s largest and most remote county.
The Center for an Agricultural Economy is a non-profit corporation in northern Vermont, focused on a healthy, local and regenerative food system for farmers, food businesses, and the community. Program areas include innovative financing, technical assistance, local food processing and marketing, school activities, food insecurity programming, community events and development, and food business incubation/food safety training. With six full-time staff, and a seasonal kitchen crew, the team works with institutions, state-wide and community organizations, farmers, and food businesses to find the gaps and overcome the challenges that exist for viable working landscapes and healthy accessible local food.
CAE owns and operates a 15,000 square foot food business incubation and processing facility, the Vermont Food Venture Center that acts as a food hub in the NEK region of the state. The VFVC is a shared-use processing facility with three kitchens that include equipment for baking, cooking, filling and more. Through many different business advising and food production services, it is the VFVC’s mission to support job creation, strengthen Vermont’s local food network and further build the agricultural economy.
The Western Mass Food Processing Center's mission is to promote economic development through entrepreneurship, provide opportunities for sustaining local agriculture, and promote best practices for food producers. The facility supports bottled and shelf-stable prepared foods, acidified foods, fresh-pack, and IQF freezing.
Services offered include support and training for agricultural producers and growers making value-added products or preserving harvests for retail and wholesale; technical assistance, business planning, product development, distribution resources and manufacturing space for specialty and organic food producers; facilities and support for catering, special events, mobile food service, and other direct-to-consumer food production; and co-pack, or contract manufacturing, services are available.
Want to see our processing facilities in action? Visit our photo album.
To find out how we can work together to grow your business, provide local food and improve our regional food system, contact our member facility closest to you today! Our contact info is listed above under "members."
Here are a few specific ways we can serve you:
Farmers: Many of our processing facilities can work with you to grow your business. We process fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, seafood and more.
Food Businesses: We provide co-pack services and rent commercial kitchen space with an array of equipment designed to suit your needs. We can help you produce anything from jams and pickles to cakes and kombucha.
Buyers: As part of our mission, we want to increase sales of local food to institutions such as schools, hospitals, colleges, prisons, nursing homes, senior centers and mobile markets. Our facilities provide a variety of lightly processed products, value-added food and more.
The local food processing facilities in our community of practice sell many products that are perfect for use in cafeterias! For example, we sell frozen squash, carrots, beets, broccoli, green beans, potatoes and other products that are peeled, cut and ready to cook. Contact us for more information about pricing, volume, and discounts.
You might not be familiar with some of the words we use on this page. That's why we created this short glossary to help clarify ther terms we use in the world of food processing. We hope this helps!
Accelerator: Distinguished from an incubator or a shared-use kitchen because of the clients it serves, an accelerator is designed for moderate to large scale food businesses. Services may include: licensed kitchens, R&D production facilities, co-manufacturing, distribution services, co-branding and other specific methods targeted for the growth/scale up of the existing business.
Acidified: Non-acidic products, including most vegetables and fresh meat, can be acidified to produce acidified low-acid foods.
Artisan/Artisanal: Generally, these terms mean that the product was made by hand with great care and high-quality ingredients. They are most frequently applied to items like bread, chocolate, cheese, vinegars and jam.
Co-Packing/Contract Manufacturing- A manufacturer that contracts with a firm for components or products. Co-packing typically involves using business owners recipes and specs and contract manufacturing typically involves in house recipes used to make products for producers based on pre-established specs.
Commissary Kitchen: A stationary, commercial kitchen facility where food is stored and prepped, often serves as a home base for food trucks, caterers, and other foodservice companies.
Food Hub: A centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.
GAP Certified (Good Agricultural Practices): A series of on-farm practices designed to minimize the risk of food contamination, maintain a clear record of how food was produced, handled and stored, and ensure people buying produce that it is coming from a clean, well-managed environment. To be GAP certified farms go through a third party audit, chosen by buyers, to show proof that they have followed the necessary practices.
Incubator: A place, especially with support staff and equipment, made available at low rent to new small businesses. Services offered assist businesses through various stages of growth, eventually “graduating” operations into a brick-and-mortar facility. The additional services, beyond rental of licensed/certified kitchens, or processing equipment can include any or all of the following: Business advising, food safety training, regulatory advising, marketing, supply chain facilitation, retail placement, outreach, and other support services. Incubators are designed for small scale and start-up businesses and the services mark the major distinction between and incubator and a shared-use kitchen.
Life-Cycle Assessment: A quantification of the level of energy and raw materials used as well as the solid, liquid and gaseous wastes produced at every stage of a product's life or process. LCA can be conducted for a whole process or for part of a process.
Light/Minimally Processing: Foods which are not substantially changed from their raw, unprocessed form and retain most of their nutritional properties. Minimal forms of processing include washing, peeling, slicing, juicing and removing inedible parts, freezing, drying and fermenting. To prolong shelf life and inhibit the growth of pathogens, perishable foods may have preservatives added to them, or they may be sealed in sterile packaging. Some minimally processed foods and beverages may be exposed to controlled amounts of heat, or in some cases radiation, to eliminate inactivate pathogens.
Season extension: Anything that allows a crop to be cultivated beyond its normal outdoor growing season. Food preservation can also ‘extend’ the seasonal availability of agricultural products.
Shared-Use Kitchen: A commercial kitchen where caterers, street cart vendors, farmers, and producers of specialty/gourmet food items can prepare their food products in a fully licensed and certified kitchen. The kitchens provide start-up businesses the opportunity to explore food production without the high cost of buying their own equipment or constructing their own building.
Technical Assistance (TA): Providing advice, assistance, and training pertaining to the many facets of food production. Such services may be provided on-site, by telephone, or by other means of communication. These services address specific problems and are intended to assist those seeking to grow their businesses. These are the types of services that incubators provide.
Value added: A raw agricultural product that has been modified or enhanced to be a product with a higher market value and/or a longer shelf life. Examples include fruits made into pies or jams, meats made into jerky, and tomatoes and peppers made into salsa.