A grant from the Missouri Department of Agriculture will help farmers and growers package their food for distribution through the CoMo Cooks Shared Kitchen.

COLUMBIA - A grant from the Missouri Department of Agriculture will help farmers and growers package their food for distribution through the CoMo Cooks Shared Kitchen. 

Funding will be put toward a new component of the shared kitchen called The Packing House. Farmers, growers and producers can use The Packing House to prepare, freeze and package crops for production, product distribution, and promotion. 

“This is a way to help local and regional Missouri farmers process their crops and create value-added products for the local market. It's a great way to really strengthen our food supply system, particularly after COVID," Executive Director of the Loop CID, Carrie Gartner, said.

Gartner said one of The Loop CID’s goals is economic development. 

“The whole idea is that it's a lot more affordable for us to provide the space, so the whole idea is The Packing House allows farmers to do that as well," Gartner said. "Right now, you can get more money selling a jar of sauerkraut than you can a head of cabbage, and so if we can help give farmers an easy onramp to processing their crops, it'll help them make more money.” 

Local Farmers use The Packing House

Farmers, growers, and producers can use The Packing House to prepare, freeze, and package crops for production, product distribution, and promotion.

Root Cellar is a local grocer that works with 80 local and regional farmers to assist them with production and distribution of crops and produce. Owner of Root Cellar, Chelsea Davis, says Root Cellar works to promote buying local food and help support hometown growers. 

“As a local food hub, we can take those products, we purchase those products from the farmer and then we get them to the consumer so that way the farmer can do what they want to do, which is grow food,” Davis said. 

Davis said the journey of the crops and produce from the farm to the Root Cellar store and then to people's plate is becoming easier because of the CoMo Cooks Kitchen and The Packing House.

“The logistics are what is really challenging," Davis said. "A lot of times it's getting produce from the field to your table, and we want to make that process as seamless as possible. So The [Packing] Kitchen is really helping us streamline that process and make it a little bit easier along the way."

The grant will help fund The Packing House which will be a separate manufacturing kitchen at the new CoMo Cooks Kitchen. The new CoMo Cooks Kitchen is currently under construction on the Business Loop and is expected to be done in January 2023. 

Zucchini

Root Cellar buys zucchinis that are grown in Missouri. The zucchinis are then chopped and frozen in the flash freezer. 

“The grant is purchasing a lot of the equipment that we need to help these farmers, so its garlic peelers, dehydrator blenders, all sorts of things like that will help them do their job,” Gartner said. 

zucchini inside the flash freezer

Root Cellar employee Caitlyn Bennett places a tray of cut up zucchini inside the flash freezer. 

Equipment is a big part of getting produce from farm to table. To make produce last longer, Root Cellar freezes fruits and vegetables in order for people to eat them year round. In order to freeze produce at a good, long lasting quality, Davis said they need an advanced freezer, and The Packing House has one.

“One of the key things that The Packing House has now is a flash freezer, and that is really critical for us," Davis said. "We do a lot of freezing in preparation for the winter. We were able to freeze blueberries, elderberries, blackberries, peaches, and now zucchini."

The flash freezer can freeze cut-up zucchini in just 90 minutes, which is half the time a conventional freezer would take. The flash freezer does not allow ice crystals to damage the flavor of the product. 

“It's really great because it allows us to have those products just a little bit longer. So in February, when it's really cold outside, we can still be enjoying those local peaches that are right here from Missouri,” Davis said.

This is helping more than just the Root Cellar business. Davis said this helps get more local farmers into the system.

“It's a really vital part of local foods having a place to process products further so people can enjoy them even longer,” Davis said. 

In addition to the flash freezer, Root Cellar uses a vacuum sealer, counter space, a large-scale food processor and more. Davis is excited that the grant will bring more equipment and resources to the kitchen. 

“There will be other things that we make down the road as we get more equipment in. I'm sure the Root Cellar will find even more creative things to do with the vegetables that we have,” Davis said. 

CoMO Cooks Shared Kitchen is temporarily located on Walnut Street in downtown Columbia while construction finishes on the new kitchen, located at 14 Business Loop 70 E.

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