Thursday, September 23, 2010

LETTER: Community Kitchen

To the Editor,
In defense of the newly-opened Socorro Community Kitchen operated by the Socorro Farmer’s Market Association and the VOLUNTEERS who have spent the last three years working to make it a reality, I offer these facts:
The kitchen has been created by funding from the McCune Charitable Foundation, the United States Department of Agriculture and the City of Socorro plus approximately 1000 hours of sweat equity by Farmer’s Market members and friends. The goal of the kitchen is to provide a place for groups and individuals to create small, local food businesses for their own benefit and for an economic boost to the City of Socorro and Socorro County. It never was represented as a “free” kitchen. Part of the agreement that created the kitchen includes monthly rent that the Farmer’s Market Association is required to pay because of the State of New Mexico’s Anti-donation Clause. We are a business whose purpose is to help create other businesses.
Starting a new business anywhere is not inexpensive. If you plan to use the kitchen you need to think seriously about your BUSINESS, create a business plan, and consider:
1. What is the food product that you have in mind? What is your recipe? What are your equipment needs? Are materials available? The kitchen has commercial equipment--convection oven, floor mixer, steam kettle and commercial range – that are bigger, faster and hotter than most cooks are accustomed to. What pots, pans and utensils do you need?
2. There are costs associated with starting a small food business. You need to be prepared for those costs and to plan to be in business for several years rather than one or two batches of muffins or cookies. In the longer term you will recover those costs and begin to make a profit.
3. This is the time to begin to work out the details of your marketing plan. Marketing is a fancy word for “where and how are you going to sell your products”? The folks at the Farmer’s Market would love to have you join us during the summer (and now the winter as well) and sell your products. The food processing permit (see #5), allows you to sell retail and wholesale. This would also be a good time to work on a label for your product. The New Mexico Environment Department requires specific information on the label that must be on your product.
4. Next you need to fill out an application and pay a small fee to become a member of the kitchen. The fees for Socorro are considerably less than in most other community kitchens. They are used to pay the rent and upkeep. Your application must describe your product and process and the materials and equipment you need. The kitchen manager is Dr. Al Smoake and his phone number is 505-507-0991. He can also be found at the Farmer’s Market on the Plaza on Tuesdays from 5:00 – 6:00 pm and Saturdays from 8:00 – 10 am. The application will also explain the kitchen rules and the hourly use fee.
5. Now you are ready to apply for a food processing permit. The permit is issued by the New Mexico Environment Department and allows you to make and sell food products. The Environment Department representative in Socorro County is Mr. Jerry Ford. His phone number is 505-835-1287 and his office is located in the County Annex Building in Neel Street. He will expect you to fill out an application in some detail regarding your cooking process and the location where you will be cooking (the community kitchen). Mr. Ford’s primary mission is to protect the public, so you must prove to him that your process and product will both be safe. Here is also where you incur one of the major costs in starting your business. The food processing permit is $200 a year. It will allow you to make almost all food products, not just baked goods. If you only want to make baked goods, you should consider the $100 permit to cook in your own home, which also has special rules and requires an inspection. Again, talk to Jerry Ford.
6. You have probably made your selected product in your home kitchen but now you need to learn to use the commercial kitchen. Schedule an orientation and equipment training session with Al Smoake. You may have to relearn some cooking skills. Commercial equipment heats so quickly that you will have to be very attentive. The fast heating will also reduce your cooking time.
7. Once you feel comfortable in the kitchen and have all your permits in place, schedule time and start cooking.
The liability insurance policy mentioned in the newspaper is NOT required, but is a good business practice to consider.
Untangling the maze of rules and fees is not for everyone, but those who really want to start their own business will persevere. If the newspaper is truly interested in assisting, rather than carrying on about the unfair and discriminatory practices of the “powers that be” without specifically naming them, the paper could work to find private and community resources for microenterprise loans or grants for those who otherwise may not be able to afford the kitchen.

Tom Hyden, President Socorro Farmers Market
Robyn Harrison

Publisher’s note: The Mountain Mail believes that it is the job of those who began the kitchen to have thought things through enough to have found private and community funding along with micro-enterprise loans and grants for those who otherwise may not be able to afford the kitchen, before opening it. The job of finding such avenues rests solely on the “powers that be” who came up with the idea without covering all the answers equally for each and every resident interested in using the kitchen.

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