Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Guest post at DriftlessAppetite.com

I really enjoy reading the Driftless Appetite blog.

Fans of local foods of all kinds should subscribe.

I was honored to be asked to contribute their first guest posting. Sent in this overview (link below) of the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen along with this photo of the strawberry insurrection taking place just under straw at the Bures Berry Patch in Iowa County, WI

Driftless Appetite

Bures Berry Patch, Iowa County, Wisconsin.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Partnership Programs at the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen

Here comes the Grand Opening of the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen! July 11, 2010, at Mineral Point, WI.

After watching the building slowly go up all winter, now work seems to be flying.

And just as that pace picks up so does the need to organize systems that help introduce this new opportunity to the world of local foods and artisan food processing. In many ways it was a blank sheet of paper with lots of (beneficial!) food safety regulations to wire in. As the opening gets closer, so does the need for information and processes to help people utilize this kitchen.

We are organizing the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen as a partnership program.

To me that means that we, as farmers, food lovers, existing food businesses, and food entrepreneurs, have the ability to become partners with a non-profit, community-access commercial kitchen designed to help us grow our own artisan food enterprises.

Because it's a big world, there will be many different ways people will want to utilize a facility like this. With that in mind we're initially organizing around 4 different types of community partnership programs.

- Preparation Partners

- Processing Partners

- Purchasing Partners

- Event Partners

Preparation Partner - We prepare your recipe for you. This will include chefs that want to process artisan, small-batch production under their labels. Existing small food enterprises or new food entrepreneurs can have their recipes prepared in artisan commercial quantities by the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen.

Our Preparation Partners will be able to start or expand artisan food businesses simply by following our intake path for this type of partnership. If you want to start an artisan food business without having to cook and clean yourself, or the need to get the required food processing certifications, our Preparation Partner program fits perfectly. Services for Preparation Partners can include full turnkey production, packaging and labeling, marketing, storage and shipping. Many great local foods opportunities down this path!

Our Processing Partners will be able to commercially process their own recipes in the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen, utilizing any mix of their ingredients or purchased ingredients.

An array of support services will be available to our Processing Partners including packaging, storage and distribution. Processing Partners will have a separate path for utilizing the kitchen. This path will include help accessing required food processing certifications and insurance as well as ingredients and distribution services.

Our Purchasing Partners program will support small food entrepreneurs and businesses who could use better access to products and services they use, not at the Innovation Kitchen, but in their own food processing operations.

The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen can supply a wide range of food ingredients, packaging and services to food businesses and food entrepreneurs. This path for Purchasing Partners is being designed to support the small food enterprise community with better access to materials, services and pricing.

Lastly, our Event Partners will utilize the Innovation Kitchen in many ways to celebrate local and artisan foods.

This can include chefs presenting seasonal local-foods cooking schools, food stylists, help for folks utilizing food assistance programs, and everyone with a great food event idea in between.

So, four simple paths into the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen:

Preparation Partners - we prepare your recipes for you.

Processing Partner - you prepare and process your recipes.

Purchasing Partners - we help you purchase commercial food supplies and services for your own food processing operations.

Event Partners - we help you produce artisan food events in our commercial kitchen.

With the help of Tom and Annette at the Hodan Center, I'm building the back-office systems to provide (hopefully!) increasingly easy and useful ways to access these Partner Programs.

If you have ever wondered about starting your own food-based enterprise or growing an existing business into the world of local foods, the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen will be a great platform to explore your dream, no matter what food path you're on.

Act on that dream. Local foods entrepreneurship is blossoming. New support infrastructure is emerging all over. You can do it.

Welcome, Partner!

Our emerging Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen site

Hodan Center

Before the Grand opening of the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen comes the Grand Re-Opening of the Mineral Point Opera House Oh my gosh. Check this out. April 30, 2010.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Social Media. Wisconsin and beyond.

Last evening our Iowa County area entrepreneur club participated in a great presentation by Wendy Soucie.

Wendy Soucie Consulting is a Wisconsin firm specializing in innovative social media applications. Wendy is an engineer who is also a creative marketing professional specializing in social media for business.

Here's a Twitter post I picked up from Wendy's site today:

"Iowa County Entrepreneurs are a great bunch - New community kitchen to provide outlet for tasty new products. I heard the word chocolate."

We greatly enjoyed Wendy's presentation!

Visit Wendy Soucie Consulting LLC

Wendy's presentation she shared last evening with our Iowa County area entrepreneur's club. As time passes, search for Wendy's March 24, 2010 to the Iowa County area entrepreneurs.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

An entrepreneur on every farm

There is a strategy for helping local enterprises expand by providing the tools and resources needed to help then innovate and grow new markets.

It's called economic gardening and I greatly support the goals of this effort.

The economic gardening community would not want me to paraphrase, but I would say the basic idea is to support existing high-growth potential businesses and innovators with information and data tools needed to grow and create jobs.

In rural regions, where are those innovators, those businesses with growth potential? As I drive down my beautiful, rural Iowa County back roads, I'm passing entrepreneur after entrepreneur as I pass farm after farm.

There is an entrepreneur on every farm.

These are enterprises that need support structures to innovate, grow, and create jobs in rural communities. The demand is there for products and services ranging from food production and processing to knowledge workers. Our rural entrepreneurs need help with the infrastructure and networks required to connect them to that demand.

I'd guess that there must be a map of the density of entrepreneurs per regional population that would include farmers as entrepreneurs. I'll bet it shows rural regions having the highest densities of entrepreneurs.

And yet, in rural areas with high levels of entrepreneurship, historically there have been a lack of appropriate resources to support these businesses.

Rural entrepreneurs need data, knowledge, and help innovating and growing into new markets.

Those prospects are changing for the better. In Wisconsin there is a great program for growing new farmers. It's our School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers.

The Director of this great program is Dick Cates who also operates the award winning Cates Family Farm in - drum roll, please - beautiful Iowa County Wisconsin.

This is the kind of economic gardening support that rural entrepreneurs need: access to knowledge and training, appropriate infrastructure, and ongoing support.

We've been trying to add to that discussion with our efforts in Iowa County over the past year or so to put some network and physical infrastructure support in place to help our rural businesses utilize the knowledge that's out there to innovate and grow and make new jobs.

The vegetable processing facility in Highland will process 2011 crops.

A group of us have helped with support/training seminars held in Iowa County to help existing farmers and new food entrepreneurs to innovate and grow into our emerging facilities and expanding markets. The focus will be on profitable vegetable production, marketing and distribution in our region.

By helping make new tools and infrastructure available to our rural entrepreneurs, we can help them prosper in these new markets.

So, first up, our Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen in Mineral Point will have its Grand Opening on Sunday, July 11. We are working hard to make this facility the most valuable it can be by offering many ways for food entrepreneurs to access preparation services and processing tools needed to innovate and grow.

The Innovation Kitchen will become a knowledge hub as well as a physical platform. In one location, we will be able to link knowledge, data, and valuable personal connections to physical resources and easy access to vendors, buyers and sellers. I believe this is the kind of infrastructure and support network needed to help our rural entrepreneurs, businesses and communities grow into emerging opportunities.

Economic gardening for rural communities should include a focus on creating easier-cheaper-faster ways for farm based entrepreneurs and businesses in rural areas to access data, knowledge, and networks. It should always include support for the physical infrastructure needed to enable innovation, growth, and increasing access to markets.

There is an entrepreneur on every farm. Let's grow this resource.

School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers at the Center for Integrated Agricultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

Cates Family Farm. Our natural, delicious tasting beef is from Angus and Jersey steers grown 'free-range' in the open air on excellent quality pasture. Steers are 100% grass-fed and grass-finished spring through autumn. The steers are raised without added growth hormones, and they do not receive any type of antibiotic for a minimum of nine months prior to processing.

1998 Wisconsin Conservation Achievement Award and the 1999 Iowa County Water Quality Leadership Award.

2006 - present. Animal Welfare Institute Approved. First beef farm in the USA to earn this approval.

Download information about seminars for area growers and food entrepreneurs being held in Iowa County, WI during April 2010. The focus will be on profitable vegetable production, marketing and distribution in our region. Topics include, The economics of growing vegetables for profit, The correct way to harvest, pack, store and cool vegetables for maximum quality and market value, and The essentials of food safety and Good Agricultural Practices (also known as GAP). Expanding information leads to expanding markets. Join us!

The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen

Schools for Beginning Fruit, Vegetable and Flower Growers also at the Center for Integrated Agricultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dr. Kathleen Merrigan visit to Wisconsin

It was an honor to be included in a round table discussion today with Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture.

I learned that the array of projects and real stakeholders the USDA must represent is daunting.

That's why having someone of Dr. Merrigan's experience in sustainable ag and regional food systems at the number two spot in this highly influential federal agency is pretty remarkable.

In a review of her nomination at gourmet.com: "She comes from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, in Boston, where she is the director of the Center on Agriculture, Food and Environment. She has also worked in government, as head of the Agricultural Marketing Service at the USDA, as a consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organization at the United Nations, and as staff to the Senate Committee on Agriculture."

"At Tufts, Merrigan has directed a group of projects designed to stimulate community gardens, develop regional marketing strategies between consumers and local farmers, and promote food and gardening education in local schools. This is not the traditional career path of high-ranking USDA officials."

Dr. Merrigan has significant responsibilities as a top member of a leadership team of a major federal agency. Yet amid all that she has carved out time and space, with no budget, to champion the great 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' program at USDA (link below). It was inspiring to hear about the widespread movement these ideas have generated. It was also really cool to see this level of entrepreneurship at this level of policy making.

Our Highland vegetable processing and IQF facility will be a platform for enabling "Know Your Farmer" programs run at a scale that can start creating real-world, measurable solutions that match existing demand from our 35 million regional consumers.

Mark has insisted from the beginning that a goal for foods processed at Highland would be that they would be farm-identified for the consumer.

Much like the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen (previous post), the Highland facility will soon generate all kinds of new action steps that will connect consumers with local producers.

I know everyone that had the opportunity to meet with the entrepreneurial Dr. Merrigan while she was in Madison today was grateful for her visit.

It was a wonderful day to be in Wisconsin talking about food and the future. Thanks Dr. Merrigan!

USDA Biography of Dr. Kathleen Merrigan

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

Review of Dr. Merrigan's nomination in gourmet.com

Thanks to Stan Gruszynski, Director of Wisconsin USDA Rural Development for the invitation to Dr. Merrigan's round table visit. Stan is on the right in the photo above.

My friend Sue Noble, Director of Vernon County Economic Development and I got to discuss our complimentary regional projects with Dr. Merrigan today. Sue is on the other side of Dr. Merrigan in the photo above.

Mark's Renaissance Farm

See previous posts about the Highland vegetable processing and freezing facility by clicking the label 'Driftless Foods' below

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food. Local-foods economic development

Deputy Secretary of the USDA Dr. Kathleen Merrigan will be visiting Madison next week. She is a great proponent of a highly entrepreneurial effort at USDA called 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food'.

The 'Know Your Farmer' web site (link below) describes it this way: "This is a USDA-wide effort to create new economic opportunities by better connecting consumers with local producers. It is also the start of a national conversation about the importance of understanding where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate."

Wisconsin is rapidly emerging as a leader in innovative agricultural and rural economic development efforts that serve the goals of 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.'

For instance, the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen is our new community-access food processing kitchen, located at Mineral Point in Iowa County. Creative new food products can prepared in the Innovation Kitchen and sold commercially. This will be a great platform for increasing connections year round between local producers and consumers. A top goal is to help increase economic opportunities and successful connections between local producers and consumers in the world of local foods.

The Innovation Kitchen is available to custom process smaller batch recipes on a contract basis. This will be artisan food processing: small-batch food preparation done in a state inspected facility by people who truly love their work.

The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen will also soon be available for rent on an hourly basis to food entrepreneurs with the appropriate certifications.

We will soon begin offering a program allowing chefs and food entrepreneurs to partner with specific growers and producers in our region to collaborate on creative new food products that can be prepared in the Innovation Kitchen for resale to their friends and followers.

There are many ways to use these types of platforms to create new economic opportunities to better connect consumers with local producers.

I think our Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen effort and all the exciting work done on the Highland/Driftless Foods project (vegetable processing and freezing) match up nicely with these goals.

Both create pieces of missing infrastructure that will allow wider regional audiences to know their farmer and know their food. All these efforts are being designed to be replicated appropriately in other regions.

The prototypes we're rolling out in Iowa County and all over Wisconsin, especially those of my friend Sue Noble in Vernon County, are being built to create new economic opportunities that connect increasing numbers of consumers with local producers.

The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen is opening now. Driftless Foods, our high-speed vegetable processing project in Highland is accelerating every day. These are real tools that will create new economic opportunities and new understandings of where our food comes from.

Thanks to Dr. Merrigan for her support of this kind of work, and we welcome her to Wisconsin next week!

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.

Learn more about the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen.

Monday, March 01, 2010


I like thinking about new and emerging enterprises as practices.

Think of orthopedic practices, or law practices, or tax, accounting, or consulting practices, among many other professional examples.

As a startup or emerging business you will benefit in this new economy by holding yourself to this level of professionalism no matter the kind of enterprise you're involved in.

These people (practitioners) practice their craft long and hard but they DO continually practice. They get better. They innovate. They continue to grow. They continue to find new ways to add value to their customers. Or they fail.

Embedded in that growth is permission to start. If you have identified your enterprise as a 'practice' you've implicitly given yourself permission to start and (importantly!) to practice.

What's also implied is that you must plan strategies and business processes that make you increasingly proficient in the professional practice you are creating. It is vital that you learn, capture and improve with every transaction.

Building a successful practice in any field means establishing a professional business model as well as a subject expertise.

I'm going to stress this approach to new and emerging food entrepreneurs coming into the world of the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen.

Truly professional local foods practices can emerge if they plan and practice. New systems will create new opportunities and new jobs.

What cool work to develop in to a professional practice. Why not think about creating a local foods practice in your life? There are a lot of opportunities. Not only in growing, but in retailing and processing and distribution and many other points along of the food chain.

There are opportunities for creating new small-scale but highly-professional practices not just in foods, but in manufacturing and services and health care and on and on.

Whatever your field, no matter how small you think your enterprise is, treat it as your professional practice. Grow your practice and it will grow you.

My core foundations for small business job creation: permission, planning and practice.