MEXICO — A plan for a shared-use kitchen, and eventually a culinary arts program at the Region 9
School of Applied Technology, will be presented to the full board, the school Program Committee has promised.

Mark Hews from the state’s Threshold to
Maine, a division of the Department of Agriculture, unveiled a plan that would use the school’s two kitchens, along with
more than $60,000 in refurbishing and equipment purchases, to form a
shared facility for use by small entrepreneurs who create some form
of food processing.

The shared-kitchen idea arose from the
River Valley Agricultural Commission, with the backing of the River
Valley Growth Council, as part of an economic strategy to capitalize
on the area’s agricultural history.

In such a facility, many small,
food-related businesses could work under one roof and one set of
licenses, and thereby cut overhead costs.

“These shared kitchens are being
configured around the region. We’re looking to partner with Region 9
and a culinary arts program,” Hews said.

He said the growth council and
Agricultural Commission would raise the estimated $60,000 needed to
start up a shared-kitchen program, and Region 9 would supply the
space.

According to the written proposal, a
culinary arts program could begin about a year after the launching of
the shared kitchen.

Beverly Crosby, spokeswoman for the
growth council, said at least 20 small, home-based food-related
businesses have indicated an interest in such a kitchen. These
include such things a producing jams and jellies, baked goods, sauces
and other foods.

Hews said a kitchen designer would
assess the available kitchen space for the needs of both a potential
culinary arts program and a shared kitchen.

Region 9 Director Brenda Gammon said
the first priority would be how a shared kitchen would affect
students at the school. She suggested that a culinary arts instructor
visit the school’s kitchens to help determine how many culinary arts
students and food processors could work in the area.

If the two programs go ahead, students
would use the kitchen during the school day, and shared kitchen users
would take over during afternoons and evenings.

Program Committee member Jeff Sterling
suggested that an agreement be made on the concept.

But Betty Barrett, also a committee
member, said she wanted to know where the funding would come from
before she agreed.

Hews said several funding sources have
been identified, although no funds are as yet available.

The matter will be brought before the
full Region 9 cooperative board at its July 21 meeting.

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