Commercial Kitchen
Photo by John W. Fitzwater
Emily Cothran and Chelsea Suleski operate a commercial kitchen at Hickory Lane Farm.

1. Think about what your customers want. You should know your customers better than anyone. What products made in a commercial kitchen would help better meet their needs? What is missing from your local farmers market or other retail outlets that you could supply? Juices, jams, pizzas, soups or dried goods? The possibilities are endless. Find the right niche and a commercial kitchen will add value to your farmstead.

2. Think outside the box. While preparing vegetables or meat grown on the farm is one option, think about other products you could prepare to rack up farmers market sales. Jacob & Carolyn Gahn of Crab Orchard, Kentucky, use a commercial kitchen on their farmstead to make granola. The income earned from granola sales provides the bulk of their income and enables them to keep homesteading. Because the granola is prepared in a commercial kitchen, they are able to sell it to restaurants, grocery stores and other retailers instead of just consumers.

3. Carefully evaluate costs. Look for used commercial appliances, going-out-of-business sales and other avenues to find affordable equipment. Also consider ways the  kitchen could earn income to help defray building costs, such as renting it out to other farmers on days you aren’t using it. Is there space on your homestead that could be converted to a commercial kitchen? Remodeling rather than building new can result in substantial savings.

4. Befriend health inspectors. They can seem like they are out to get you, but they just want to make sure you are establishing a clean environment and solid procedures to keep your customers safe. Ask lots of questions to be sure you are following guidelines. Be respectful and kind, even when regulations don’t make sense to you.

Michelle Howell of Hickory Lane Farm said, “With our farmers market, we have found that the local health inspectors often aren’t sure about things when we want to do something that hasn’t been done in our area before. We have had a lot of success going to the state level and asking our more complex questions there.” Regulations can vary drastically from city to city and state to state, so study up.

5. Build extra time and money into your plan. “We were moving the refrigerators into the kitchen at 3 a.m. the morning before our health inspection,” said Nathan Howell. Things will likely always take longer or cost more than your original plan, so prepare yourself for that possibility.

6. Consider the long-term commitment. A commercial kitchen can be beneficial to your farm, but it can also be a big money and time sink. That’s why having a plan in advance about marketing its  products and how it will  benefit your farm can help you stay the course. Do not overextend yourself and consider hiring help.

This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Winter 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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