SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — Lane County is one of the few communities that can boast a food hub, a center based entirely on supporting the local food industry. But how does its food hub work?
“People talk about the Willamette Valley like it’s the garden of Eden. This is an amazing agriculture area that has more or less limitless potential to grow its own food,” said Micah Elconin, SPROUT! Program Supervisor.
The ground will grow it, but managers at the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation, or NEDCO, knew to get people to buy that food, eat it and, cook it, they’d need to make that abundant harvest more accessible.
“We started the Springfield Farmer’s Market five years ago,” Elconin said.
What began as a few booths in downtown bloomed into the year-round Market@SRPOUT! in what used to be First Christian Church.
“We saw the opportunity to not only revitalize a great historic building in downtown Springfield, but to revitalize it in such a way that it could become this resource, which is now a full-service food hub,” Elconin said.
Every Friday, local vendors fill the former sanctuary with the goods they hauled in from their farms–everything from hazelnuts to squash to turnips.
But while one part of the church buzzed with activity, another part sat unused until now.
“This is a fully licensed shared-use production space,” Elconin said.
The appliances are many. The burners brand new. It is a cook’s dream, and that’s the point.
“Kitchen@SPROUT! is a shared use production kitchen for new and growing food businesses,” Elconin said.
The dry sinks, empty mixers and barren freezer will soon come to life.
“We are just this week even finishing up some final program elements and will be getting full guidelines and applications to the many interested users we already have,” Elconin said. “I’ve been contacted by nearly 30 different businesses with strong interest in being in this space.”
They’re businesses like food carts that need a place to prep, or new food product companies that need a space for production, maybe even a culinary pro who wants to share his skills in a cooking class.
“We’re just really excited about getting people in the space,” Elconin said.
Users who rent time there can take a quick jaunt up the stairs and rent an office directly above the kitchen through Hatch@SPROUT, the organization’s business incubator. They’ll get guidance and mentoring from SPROUT’s managers, along with partnership opportunities with other users set up here.
The programs–the market, kitchen and offices–are a way to nurture new businesses, foster creativity, and take advantage of that Eden-like agriculture we, at times, take for granted.
“Best case scenario for me is that I have lots of people come in and use the space, then grow so successfully that they outgrow the space,” Elconin said.
Anyone interested in renting some time in the Kitchen@SPROUT can click here for more information.