There has been a local food movement in Dayton for years. In June 2007, Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley asked OSU Extension to lead an initiative to help connect local food growers and producers with local buyers. I was brought into this group as a part of my work with the local restaurant association. Meeting at the 2nd Street Market, our group eventually grew to about 25 or so members, including local farmers, bee keepers, educators, city and county workers, teachers and students who all were united in the belief that educating our community as to the benefits of buying locally produced foods and goods, would breed success for area growers, consumers, the economy and the environment.
The group eventually became Miami Valley Grown, with a mission to to connect local growers with local buyers. We held seminars and workshops and a mass-media campaign to expand awareness of the benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption, local foods, urban gardening and related topics. We even hosted a local food week, where restaurants featured meals highlighting ingredients from Miami Valley producers. As we worked with the local farmers, community groups and budding food businesses, we kept coming across a need for a facility that would allow farmers to reap profits from value-added food processing and consumers to have a facility to learn how to stretch the use of local products through the season by learning canning techniques.
Community kitchens offer specialty food processors, farmers, and caterers a relatively inexpensive place to license food processing activities. Kitchen clients are charged only for the time that they use the facility. They benefit from the technical knowledge of others using the kitchen, particularly those with extensive food processing, marketing, and business experience. These kitchens can also support the local economy. “Community kitchens have been built to boost local job creation, diversify the local economy, and transfer ideas and technology from universities or companies,” says researcher Kaelyn Stiles, who works with the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems in Wisconsin.
Our group took field trips to the Center for Innovative Food in Toledo and the ACEnet facility in Athens, successful models for developing local food systems and business incubation—both with shared use kitchens and impressive track records.
We knew that a community kitchen could thrive in the Dayton region, but a facility of our own continued to elude us. We explored local sites and were even generously offered a restaurant space from an Ohio chain, but could never figure out the financial blueprint to support and sustain such an endeavor. While our volunteer group was passionate, we lacked the bandwidth, the leadership and the experience to take the idea further. We became inactive, yet the movement never really died.
After all this time, I still get a call or email every month asking if I know of a kitchen for rent, be it local entrepreneurs, girl scout groups or caterers. And now I have some great news to tell them. Tonia and Joe Fish have established Synergy Incubators, a non-profit food business incubator with a shared food processing facility supported by programs to encourage the successful growth of food businesses. It will include an urban educational farm component for area schools and Dayton residents of all ages.
I couldn’t be more thrilled. Meanwhile Tonia and Joe are being swept up in a wave of grass roots support that, as always, makes me proud to be a part of this community. The momentum behind Synergy Kitchen feels like a high speed train, according to Tonia, with all the pieces falling quickly into place. It will soon be ready to help launch successful food businesses, educate the populace and make our region a destination for innovative and ethnic food and dining experiences.
Those of us who’ve been long-time studious advocates for a healthier Miami Valley know that Synergy Incubators will have a positive economic impact as well as a personal one. Producers will have higher incomes as demand rises. More producers will shift production or join the marketplace. Transportation costs will be lowered. Consumers will gain knowledge of healthy eating which can help lower disease and obesity rates. It looks like we’re set to become a healthier, happier community.
To keep up with the progress of Synergy Incubators, please like their Facebook Page.