Local food hub sprouts in Stanwood

STANWOOD — Family farms and small food producers in north Snohomish County are getting a new resource to boost their businesses and promote locally sourced meals.

North 40 Farm Food, based out of Camano Island, is building a community kitchen and food processing work space in downtown Stanwood.

The project is funded by a $98,700 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Promotion Program. Melissa Turkington, the founder and owner of North 40 Farm Foods, expects to be ready by the end of November. It is under construction now in a building she shares with the Klesick Family Farm at 8504 Cedarhome Drive.

Turkington started North 40 Farm Food last year after realizing that the closest resource for small farms and food businesses that needed a commercial space to work in was more than an hour’s drive away.

Turkington grew up on Camano Island. She’s worked in the food industry for 12 years, most recently as the owner of an at-home bakery where she sold wedding cakes. She’d outgrown her home kitchen, but wasn’t looking to expand to her own storefront due to business license requirements, which change in scope and cost as a company expands.

Turkington did some research and learned about food hubs. A food hub, she decided, would be a huge asset for Stanwood and Camano Island. There are hundreds of farms within driving distance.

“People are working on food hubs up and down the I-5 corridor, but it kind of jumped over the Stanwood-Camano area,” Turkington said. “Food hubs are really aimed at helping farmers and food businesses get a leg up.”

The hub is a community space that provides a shared room and equipment to cook, package and label food products like jams, breads or canned vegetables. North 40 also plans to offer workshops at the food hub, tackling topics like recipe development, food labeling and marketing.

“That’s kind of that red tape area that small-farm owners are scared to tackle,” Turkington said.

She is forming a class of up to 10 people for her first year-long program, which is scheduled to start in January. She has two people signed up so far. She plans to charge monthly fees for the classes and have hourly rental rates for people who want to use the kitchen for events.

“We developed this sort of cohort process,” she said. “We take them through a few workshops and then make sure we’re available for them.”

Tristan Klesick of the Klesick Family Farm sees the food hub as an opportunity for year-round production, turning summer berries into winter jams and drying or freezing other produce to be used in a variety of recipes.

“It decreases the amount of food we waste in this world,” he said. “I’m really excited for the future. There’s a lot of great opportunities because Stanwood has such a rich agricultural history.”

Turkington plans to fine-tune her program over the next two years. North 40 only has two employees, and she’s one of them. She’s bringing in a number of partners, like the Klesicks’ farm and the Port Susan Farmers Market.

Community kitchens and education programs are vital for small farms, Klesick said. Such projects help keep family farming viable even as many small and medium farms consolidate into bigger operations.

“The farms are getting so big that the little people can’t even play ball,” he said. “The middle layer of farming is disappearing. There’s just the big guys and the little guys.”

The USDA grant dollars give the little guys a big boost through the kitchen they’re funding. Stanwood will have a place for farmers to learn and work, and local restaurants and markets will have a new resource for farm-to-table meals, Turkington said.

North 40 was one of nearly 200 organizations in the country to receive a federal grant, including seven in Washington, according to the USDA. Other recipients in the state include the Northwest Agriculture Business Center in Mount Vernon, Institute for Washington’s Future in Lynnwood and Tilth Association in Seattle. The USDA awarded more than $52 million in grants, mostly through new programs sparked by the 2014 Farm Bill.

The grants are meant to “support the growing organic industry and local and regional food systems,” according to the USDA.

The grant money North 40 received is being used to pay for kitchen equipment, Turkington said.

People can sign up for the program or learn more about it by calling Turkington at 425-327-9831 or going to www.north 40farmfood.wix.com.

“I hope we serve as a pilot for more cooperation like this,” Klesick said. “I want communities to own their local food again.”

Kari Bray: kbray@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3439.

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