Spencer Penn receives grant

Paul Collins Bulletin Staff Writer

The Spencer-Penn Centre has been notified that its application for a $52,140 federal grant for a community kitchen project has been approved.

That grant will enable the center to also use a $100,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, which was approved in January contingent on approval of the smaller grant, according to Mary Jordan, executive director of the center.

The $52,140 grant is from the federal Appalachian Regional Commission.

Jordan said U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher's office was notified by the ARC that the grant had been approved, and Boucher's office in turn notified the center.

The idea behind the project is to provide a place where local entrepreneurs and small businesses can turn locally grown foods into processed products such as jams, jellies, baked goods and more.

Nelda Purcell, program director for the Spencer-Penn Centre, has said the project's major purposes include providing more opportunities for agricultural growers to sell their foods and earn money, and for food-based entrepreneurs and small businesses to start and grow their businesses.

Entrepreneurs and small businesses could include caterers or people who make baked products or other food products, Purcell has said.

"In the first year," Purcell said, "we hope to serve a minimum of 15 growers and other small food product entrepreneurs, serve at least three new businesses and support the development or production of five or more marketable products with an aggregate retail value of at least $8,000."

Products, also called value-added products, could be such things as salsa, pickles or other canned or dried foods, such as dried snack foods, Purcell said.

The goal, over the course of three years, is to "increase the diversity of farm production among at least 12 regional growers, such as organic vegetables or fruits that can be processed for added value," Purcell said. The goal is to support the development or production of marketable products with an aggregate retail value of $30,000 for the first three years, she said.

One goal is to "increase the income by at least 5 percent for at least 12 or more regional growers through the sale of value-added products," Purcell said.

Another aim is for local restaurants and markets in the region to offer locally produced food products manufactured in the kitchen, she said.

The center hosts a tailgate produce market, and Purcell hopes people will be able to buy produce at the market, process food in the center's kitchen and then sell it.

"Home grown, home processed" is how Jordan summed up the project.

In addition to supplementing the income of farmers, entrepreneurs and small businesses, center officials hope the kitchen will increase the percentage of small businesses that succeed by being an incubator kitchen, Jordan said. She hopes small businesses will get their starts by renting the kitchen and will save money, build up their clientele and get experience and later move into their own sites, she said.

The kitchen could be rented by those who want to can foods or do other food processing, Purcell has said.

The kitchen also could be used for educational purposes, such as canning/food processing classes, agribusiness and culinary arts, she has said. She hopes some of the classes could be in partnership with Patrick Henry Community College.

The center already has a commercial kitchen that is certified by the health department, Purcell has said. Jordan has said the kitchen is used on a limited basis.

Funding from the grants will be used for such things as repairing a leaky roof on the kitchen; hiring and training a kitchen manager; setting up and equipping an office for the kitchen manager; kitchen-related parking lot improvements, including paving; additional kitchen equipment if needed; marketing; and developing a business plan, according to Jordan and Purcell.

Purcell said she believes the first steps will be to advertise for a kitchen manager and to advertise for a consultant to do a business plan. Once the kitchen manager and business plan are in place, "we would like to have it on line (the kitchen operating) by spring of 2011," Purcell said.

The kitchen manager will do such things as managing the day-to-day operations of the kitchen, working to open more marketing outlets and working with growers, entrepreneurs and small businesses, according to Jordan and Purcell. For instance, if someone had a great recipe for grape jelly and wanted to find a grape grower, or if a grower wanted to find someone to buy his or her grapes, the kitchen manager could connect the two, Jordan said.

Both Purcell and Jordan said they were "thrilled" to find out the grant has been approved.

A "rough projection," Purcell said, is that it will cost about $175,000 for the kitchen project over three years. Any income from the kitchen will go back into its development and operation, she said. "We would love to be able to say it would be self-supporting ... within three years," she said, but whether or not that happens "depends on how quickly the community latches on to the whole idea."

The Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. was co-applicant for funding for the project, officials have said.