About a dozen people attended a public meeting at Marion County Lake Thursday to discuss the concept of a certified kitchen at the lake hall.
Teresa Huffman, director of Marion County Economic Development, provided background information and what is going on statewide.
If the county commissioners approve the certified kitchen concept, she said, it would be only the third one in the state.
Commissioner Dan Holub said the kitchen can be used for a lot of different things.
“It can provide a site to do classes or be used as a culinary incubator to drive new start-up businesses,” he said.
The purpose behind the certified kitchen, Holub explained, can vary from holding classes on cooking or canning to picking a subject related to that.
“The certified kitchen is a concept and not a business,” he said.
“It seems like many people are worried that if this is in the lake hall, they won’t be able to use it or the county will charge more.”
The certified kitchen wouldn’t be free, Holub said, but the cost would be kept to a minimum—primarily covering expenses.
One individual questioned whether the kitchen would be in direct competition with the extension office.
“No,” Holub said. “It would provide a site to do extension classes—it is not a business.”
Hall events undisturbed
The two halls would not be interfered with, he said.
“The hall would rent the same for family reunions and, as far as conflicts, the schedule would stay open for reunions.”
In addition, two family reunions and the commercial kitchen could all be used at the same time.
“The commercial kitchen won’t cancel out family reunions,” he said.
One question involved catering and whether the certified kitchen would be in competition with Melissa Bartel’s business, Panhandler’s Catering.
Holub said catering is not part of this concept.
“It would not be fair to her because she has made an investment with her catering,” he said.
Bartel said her certified kitchen could be another opportunity to expand business by renting out her facilities and accomplishing the same goal.
Private versus government
“With one private and one county operated facility, we wouldn’t be interested if it meant competing against a business,” Holub added.
“I do want to make sure it will meet the needs of other people,” he said, “and how interested would she be in having somebody else use her kitchen.”
Currently, Bartel said she doesn’t have a plan to do this, he said. It just came up as a possibility.
The other two commissioners, Randy Dallke and Roger Flaming, both wanted to explore Bartel’s business plan further.
Using the county concept, Holub said, people could use the certified kitchen for canning, selling canned goods, jellies, baked item.
“All (the county) would have is what was required to be in place to produce their product,” he said.
The classes wouldn’t be limited to only Marion County either, but would serve a regional area.
The county is still going forward on its idea.
“We have some questions that need answers and we are wondering if Melissa wants to do it or go as far as what the county is envisioning,” he said.
“She has an investment and so we don’t want to compete, but at the same time, we can also offer classes and training,” he said.
Being unfamiliar with Bartel’s facility, Holub said, he isn’t even sure how many people could take a class.
Cost for commercial kitchen
There is more than $30,000 available in grants for this project, he said.
“That would pay for all of it, except $5,000, which would come from tax dollars,” Holub said.
According to Huffman, Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has a goal of purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers’ markets and having classes on preparing and preserving the food.
“There is also a workshop on how to build and use a hoop house, which is a greenhouse for people to expand their growing time for plants,” she said.
The hope, Huffman said, is to grow small farming operations by purchasing and using their fruits, vegetables and herbs.
“The other goal is to attract food entrepreneurs that need a certified kitchen to prepare a food item to market and sell,” she said.
Holub agreed saying that people could buy enough vegetables to last two or three days for canning purposes.
“This would also increase utilization of the farmers’ market,” he said.
If this doesn’t work, the only thing the county would be out is $5,000, but Marion County would still have a fully working kitchen.
The grant would cover purchasing the stove, refrigerator, four sinks to wash items in different temperatures, stainless steel grills, hoods, mixers and a large work table.
Of the 12 people at the meeting, Huffman said only one person was what she would consider as “supportive” of the idea.
Yet Holub said he remains positive.
“There are no guarantees on where this will end up, but just because there are no guarantees doesn’t mean we can’t try.”