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Regional Food System+Commercial Kitchen+Food Entrepreneur Incubator=Collaborative Community

Central to this model is a local incubator kitchen and food storage space. Acting as a multi-sided platform, the incubator kitchen serves both a network of regional to local farmers and the urban community. Food entrepreneurs are emerging everywhere. They are the individuals challenging the confines of our current food system, driving innovation and change, and reconnecting lost ties that cultivate the deep connection between individuals, their communities, and the simple act of eating. As food entrepreneurs ourselves, we have created a scalable model that increases market access for regional to local farmers, cultivates food entrepreneurs, and provides increased access to nutrient rich high-value foods within diverse urban markets, specifically targeting low-income low-access areas.

Photo of Samantha Harmon
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HOW WE DO IT:

1. By providing top-of-the-line equipment, multiple cooking stations, secured food storage and food truck terminals (physical)

2. By providing a comprehensive-assistance program-tailored for small business food entrepreneurs. (intellectual)

3. By providing access to locally/sustainably sourced fresh produce, meats and grains, etc.—(connecting food entrepreneurs to their local food system)

4. By providing the support and efficiency of a scalable, collaborative community (membership-benefits/co-op structure)


COMMERCIAL KITCHEN SPACE & INCUBATOR PROGRAM
In terms of the urban community, the incubator kitchen provides a space for local food talent to express their culinary art while receiving business development support. These small-scale food entrepreneurs strengthen their regional food system, increase access to high-value foods for all individuals of their community, and spur economic development within their community. The incubator program provides affordable access to specialized services by sharing costs across members. These services include: business development training, culinary coaching, creative design services, marketing, legal counseling and financial services.

Mobile food and market trucks are one primary distribution mechanism for the kitchen members. Food trucks offer an excellent retail outlet for a relatively low capital investment. Although many people talk of using food trucks to address issues of food desserts and food access, few businesses actually cater to these markets. By building/establishing cooperative distribution mechanisms, there will be direct incentive for community kitchen members to target low-income, low access areas (including their own communities).

BUILDING A REGIONAL FOOD MARKETPLACE
In order to supply both kitchen customers and other local food purchasers with fresh, locally sourced goods, the kitchen includes a centralized warehouse to aggregate and store food for distribution to the local market. Through an innovative marketplace structure, the kitchen offers farmers bulk purchasing guarantees for deeply discounted high-quality foods that farmers might otherwise have difficult selling (ex. farmers market leftovers, glean crops, less-desired cuts of meat, etc.). By also providing advance payment on bulk orders, we decrease financial risks for the farmers and reduce food waste. We are currently looking to partner directly with an organization working to establish regional food hubs as there is clear opportunity for valuable co-creation in this space.

BUSINESS MODEL DEVELOPMENT

Overall, this model draws on the progressive work sprouting up across the country in the areas of: supporting local/family farms, establishing regional food hubs, and utilizing mobile food distribution methods. Drawing on a number of incredible inspirations (including DC Central Kitchen, La Cocina, San Francisco Foodshed Project, and SF Foodcart Project) this model takes things one step further by creating a community driven, but closed loop system that simultaneously creates both the supply and demand needed for it to be sustainable. In the long term, the vision is to create a model that is highly scalable such that the system expands beyond a single community and becomes an efficient, high-volume network of connected local-food systems.


What actions would need to be taken to turn this idea into a reality?

1. Secure seed funding: Operating as a financially sustainable hybrid business model, external funding would be required for the start-up phase. Here we will look for private equity investment, likely from a social enterprise geared investment fund.

2. Develop initial supply chain: network of local/regional suppliers (farmers, bakers, etc) who will supply food for kitchen members; innovative purchasing/pricing mechanisms will be marketed as a way of developing a network of suppliers-- we like the idea of providing a guaranteed market for unsold good from local farmers (thanks Paul Keys) and see this as a way of possibly securing high-quality, healthy food at substantially reduced cost

3. Locate kitchen/warehouse space: we will look to re-purpose unused space such as abandoned warehouses, garages, or other urban spaces likely on the outskirts of the city, or in low-income areas. In doing so the kitchen will become a place of urban revitalization while also having low property costs.

4. Physical resources (build out communal kitchen space, trucks, etc.): Because we will be converting unused space, the kitchens will need to be built to industry standards and fitted with all necessary equipment. A transportation fleet (both food trucks and delivery trucks) will also need to be purchased.

5. Hire kitchen staff: These will be the people actually employed by the kitchen to provide services to all members. This core team of 3-4 full time staff members will have specialized knowledge in key areas such as: legal, accounting, marketing, culinary coaching, etc.).

6. Recruit initial kitchen members (food entrepreneurs): Work with key partners to identify promising emerging food entrepreneurs. These potential members will be vetted through a rigourous application process, and then elected into an initial membership class. Potential applicants will be sourced from places such as: community college/adult education career center, culinary arts career center, community based organizations, etc.

Who might make a good partner for this project?

Advocacy-Awareness/Education-Community Building Partners:
*Nutrition/food access organizations will be vital partners in educating end consumers about the benefits of a healthy diet, how to create better eating habits, and how to obtain the types of food they will need to supplement their new healthier lifestyle. These organizations will also be imperative partners in advocating for specific legislative changes in food access, food safety and local food production.

*Organizations working with ethnic/women’s/low-income issues will be key partners in recruiting potential food entrepreneurs, building an end consumer base, and advocating for legislative changes both local and national.

*Career-oriented programs (career counseling, job training, etc) provide an entry-point to directly targeting individuals (hopefully soon to be food entrepreneurs) who many have an interest in joining our incubation kitchens and/or Regional Food Hubs. These programs would also provide great insight into the development of the incubation program.

*Urban development/revitalization interest groups could contribute to the strategic placement of food trucks and incubator kitchens, focusing efforts on further developing low-income areas, abandoned lots, and rural to urban connections; while also teaming up to create legislative/regulatory changes in support of food trucks and food increased access.

*Schools would offer a guaranteed market for the food entrepreneurs in both cafeteria food sales and as a substitute for off-school lunches. Playing into the pricing mechanisms, we would be able to increase the opportunity for students on reduced and free lunches to eat high-quality nutritious food. Food from the farmer’s network would be efficiently funneled through the food hub and distributed directly to school cafeterias or to food entrepreneurs to create alternatives meal options for students.

*Network of Business Professionals establishing this network of business or corporate partners will be a way to provide one-on-one mentoring within the incubation program, while also providing another outlet for individuals to become more involved. These business professionals will have specific successful backgrounds in marketing, PR, business development, accounting, and operations.

Supplier Networks:
*Farmer Networks (such as CSAs, community gardens, farmer coalitions) would offer an inherent distribution infrastructure that we could help bring to scale, providing access to new markets and more standardized packaging and distribution. These networks will also make great entry-points to connecting with more regional/local farmers that may be interested in joining our network, bringing their food to their community while reaping increased financial benefits. Community Gardens would also make a unique food waste outlet for the incubation kitchens as a place to compost.

Distribution and Logistics Partner:
*Regional Food Hubs (We are currently looking to partner directly with an organization working to establish regional food hubs as there is clear opportunity for valuable co-creation in this space.) Regional Food Hubs will work in a hub-and-spoke model, where the establish food hub will support a number of incubation kitchens, along with other buyers/food distributors (hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals, food banks, etc.) who are interested in upholding our standards for food quality and value and supporting their local food producers. Regional Food Hubs will have the capacity to facilitate the growing demand for locally produced high-quality high-value food, filling the missing infrastructural gap of food storage and transportation. This relives farmers of the task of fulfilling buyers’ diverse packaging requirements and increase their bulk orders.

Government:
*Local government could offer tax breaks or other incentives for food entrepreneurs. For example, city planners could allocate space to creating a large, outdoor central court that has tables and chairs, as well as space for food truck terminals-- similar to a food court but in an outdoor or converted space (great examples of this are happening in Austin, TX and Portland, OR)...thanks Kirk Soderstrom and Sarah Fathallah.

What suggestions would you have for potential sources of funding for the development of this project?

This business will be funded through its operations. The primary source of revenue will be from a fixed percentage of members’ sales. By keeping membership dues low, small scale food entrepreneurs will have the upfront access to critical resources without being burdened by heavy loans with high payments. By taking a fixed percentage of sales, the kitchen prospers as the entrepreneurs prosper. The second revenue stream will be from the purchasing of food products from farmers and other suppliers. Again suppliers will be charged a fixed percentage of purchases.

While the business supported through its own revenue generating activities, additional sources of funding may also be utilized. Specifically local, state and nationwide funding programs to support food access, nutrition, and job creation programs could be sources of supplemental funds. Microfinance organizations may also be a good source of capital to support the food entrepreneurs themselves (as Jennifer Tam says: “MFIs lack the business skill training side of the equation and since your model includes this in its intellectual component this might give you access to an even wider breadth of people and regions.”)

Virtual team

Paul Keys
Kirk Soderstrom
Anne-Laure Fayard
Sarah Fathallah
Jennifer Tam
Cory Quach

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Photo of Congmin

As the author said, "The primary source of revenue will be from a fixed percentage of members’ sales.... The second revenue stream will be from the purchasing of food products from farmers and other suppliers. Again suppliers will be charged a fixed percentage of purchases. While the business supported through its own revenue generating activities, additional sources of funding may also be utilized. Specifically local, state and nationwide funding programs to support food access, nutrition, and job creation programs could be sources of supplemental funds. Microfinance organizations may also be a good source of capital to support the food entrepreneurs themselves" I think to let the local, state and nationwide funding program to support it is a great idea that could especially to help their local community. Then to let more people to getting to know and understand how important it is to support their own community could let other people to help more and more area through this food system will benefit not only themselves, but also the worldwide.

Photo of Fei

I really agree with your point!

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