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Sowing the Seeds of Sustainability: The Food & Farm Business Incubator Kitchen at 21 Acres

Nestled in the heart of Woodinville, a partnership between 21 Acres and Business Impact NW has given rise to a movement that transcends conventional boundaries. The Food & Farm Business Incubator program is designed to support farmers and cottage industry micro and small-scale agricultural food businesses across the Sammamish valley develop, test, and launch value-added packaged food products that sustainably utilize local resources. With the addition of the new Food Business Resource Center (FBRC) Incubator Kitchen Program at 21 Acres, the once dormant commercial kitchen has now blossomed into something much more profound. It stands as a sanctuary of innovation, a cradle of sustainable practices, and a testament to the power of collaboration.

The Dream and Genesis

Robin Crowder, Co-Director at 21 Acres, says The Food & Farm Business Incubator aims to unite local preservation, agritourism, and economic development efforts by providing the infrastructure, business management training, and connections that farmers and food businesses need to develop and sell a value-added packaged food product.

This project focuses on the untapped opportunity to bring together various economic interests in support of local food and farm microenterprises. We see this project as a true collaboration, overlapping many organizations' missions and a sum greater than its separate parts. The potential to establish an economic- and climate-sustainable food and farm business incubator kitchen is groundbreaking.”

Henry Wong, Director of the Farm Business Resource Center, says their role is providing wraparound educational training for farm businesses and packaged food businesses who source ingredients primarily from local agricultural producers. This program will support development and market testing of value-added and packaged food products from entrepreneurs focused on local sourcing.

“21 Acres had a commercial production kitchen space that they were looking to reactivate. With similar goals to serve and support the growth of local farms, a natural partnership came together to reactivate the kitchen space.”

An Eco-Friendly Endeavor

21 Acres Kitchen

The North Star Goal when envisioning the partnership was to provide low-barrier, accessible production space for local food & farm businesses to test and develop new value-added food products. There is a present and continuing need for commercial kitchen/production space in the King County area and existing spaces can be costly for newer businesses or those who are in the development and testing phase.

The roots of this partnership delve deep into a shared desire to create a haven for entrepreneurs dedicated to crafting sustainable food products. It was a response to a pressing need in King County - the scarcity of accessible, affordable production spaces for businesses that prioritize sustainability. This partnership was forged in the crucible of shared values. Both the FBRC at Business Impact NW and 21 Acres shared a vision of a more sustainable future, one where local businesses thrive, rooted in the principles of sustainability. The incubator kitchen was conceived as the nucleus of this vision, a place where ideas and innovation could be nurtured, while staying firmly grounded in the ethos of sustainable practices.

We are seeing great progress with our incubator clients as they are supporting the local farms by buying local and seasonal products.  We are seeing everything from eggs, dairy, Flour, berries, herbs, and other produce.  Our clients sell their value-added creations at the local farmers’ market and have been received very well.”

Fostering Sustainable People and Practices

21 Acres Kitchen 2

The FBRC is part of an ecosystem of support that empowers entrepreneurs to realize their sustainable dreams. Participants of the program are assigned dedicated business coaches to provide personalized support. Clients are not merely provided space; they are nurtured. They receive comprehensive training on state-of-the-art equipment, ensuring efficient utilization. Participants will need to obtain a business license, food handlers’ card, Certificate of insurance, WSDA or King County permit—depending on what and who you they plan to sell to. The great news is, the FBRC coaches are ready to help participants through these processes no matter where participants are on their journey.

A major benefit is the opportunity to sell packaged goods in the 21 Acres on-site farm market.  If food and farm entrepreneurs have sourced 60% of their products locally and food items are sustainable and prepared locally, the Farm Market manager will consider selling their products at the market.  There is also a quarterly farm market at 21 Acres that is free for vendors. The emphasis on sourcing local, sustainable ingredients resonates with 21 Acres' mandate of 60% local sourcing, forging a direct connection between producer and the land.

Innovations in the Kitchen

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Recent upgrades in the incubator's facilities represent an even stronger dedication to sustainability. Some of the new upgrades include: a new A/C unit, which is said to be a luxury in most kitchens. They recently installed a brand-new energy star rated and ultra efficient cook line.  Additionally, 21 Acres has converted from gas equipment to electric, including our four new electric steam ovens and twelve electric induction stoves.

The installation of an energy-efficient cook line and the transition from gas to electric equipment aren't just technical advancements; they signify a significant step towards reducing their environmental impact. By reducing their carbon footprint, the incubator kitchen sets a powerful example for the industry. This transition, initially met with reluctance, are now the very foundation on which this kitchen stands. These expansions are just the first step towards the prospect of creating structured pathways for businesses to grow beyond the incubator. They signal a commitment to long-term sustainability.

We are ahead of the curve as most professional kitchens currently use gas stoves.  We are reducing the carbon footprint by switching to electric operated equipment.  As a chef working with gas ranges and equipment all my life, this was initially tough to wrap my head around.  As we researched and learned about the capabilities of induction stoves, I quickly changed my mind and fully support the new high performance induction ranges in the commercial setting.”

Sculpting a Sustainable Future

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Business Impact NW sees this initiative as more than just a mentorship program. With a focus on hyper localized food business, the vibrancy of local ecosystems finds its way into every product. Additionally, the emphasis on local, seasonal, and often overlooked grade B produce reflects a commitment to conscious consumption and the reduction of food waste.

“We have the opportunity to use grade B ingredients, buying directly from farmers as an option as well, which is produce that isn’t market quality but works great for sauces or items where it stewed or pureed.”

Waste reduction is not a mere practice; it's an ethos etched into every facet of the program. With the help of the FBRC and Business Impact NW, 21 Acres ensures that every resource, from ingredients to packaging, is used efficiently and responsibly. The incorporation of specialized equipment like the freezer dryer and dehydrator further underlines their dedication to reducing waste and maximizing the use of available resources. Henry Wong also says eco-friendly packaging isn't an afterthought; it's an integral part of the process. It's a statement that every aspect of this kitchen, down to its packaging, is a testament to sustainable living. Additionally, strategic ordering and the use of seasonal, high-quality ingredients ensure that nothing goes to waste.

Empowering Sustainable Entrepreneurs: A Call to Action

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For those aspiring to join the incubator program, the message is clear: now is the time to act.

The FBRC shares the importance of having a clear plan, a focused product line, and a commitment to sustainability. According to FBRC Director Henry Wong: start small, source locally, and seek honest feedback from trusted sources.

Have a plan or an idea of something you want to create.  This helps narrow it down and makes it so much easier once you get to the kitchen.  I see entrepreneurs that want to make a lot of different food items.  This can be challenging, and I recommend starting slow, sourcing your local food items, testing, and creating something really amazing.”

For those in need of funding or financial assistance, Business Impact NW has a lending arm and a Loan Readiness Center (LRC) that can support businesses looking for capital to grow their businesses. Program staff can also support in passing along opportunities for funding through grants, specialized loans, and other opportunities.

Looking Towards Greener Pastures

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Food business entrepreneurs who join the program become part of a growing community of like-minded individuals striving for a more sustainable future. This partnership shows that entrepreneurship isn't just about profits; it's about creating a legacy, leaving an imprint on the world through sustainable practices.

“There is demonstrated interest from local retailers and markets to promote local businesses and food products. We plan to leverage the program to open up opportunities for incubator businesses to connect with these channels and will develop workshops and/or events that support that. As needs of current and potential incubator participants change, we will continue to refine our programming and partnerships to support that.”

Robin Crowder shares her dream—as well as 21 Acres’— for the success of the program: a local farm in the program identifies the need to diversify their sales and thrives.

“Through business training and advising they identify local restaurants who want to source locally but require minimal processing. They utilize the program to access subsidized kitchen time for processing. Additionally, the 21 Acres Kitchen PHOTO 7farm business also finds a value-add product well matched to be sold at the local restaurants and other venues through this process. They utilize the incubator services and commercial kitchen to test and develop the value-add product. The new product is proudly sold not only at the restaurant but at other nearby establishments featuring its commitment and collaboration with local producers.”

The journey has only just begun, and the potential for growth, transformation, and lasting impact is boundless. The Incubator Kitchen at 21 Acres isn't just a kitchen; it's a testament to the potential of sustainable practices and a harbinger of a brighter, more sustainable future.

If you are interested in the incubator program, go to business Impact NW’s Food Business Resource Center (FBRC) and apply here.

About the author

Janelle is a storyteller through and through. She was raised in a family of entrepreneurs who owned and managed a series of small businesses, including a Hawaiian restaurant, a video store, and several real estate properties. Growing up in a low-income community but attending schools as a minority in affluent areas, she struggled with the inequities she faced each day.

Janelle graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, specializing in screenwriting and playwriting. She has worked for a number of nonprofits and has remained steadfast in her commitment to using her craft to support the missions of each organization, and uplift underserved communities throughout the Bay Area.

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