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Montgomery County Looking For Private Partner To Help Start ‘Kitchen Incubator’

By Aaron Kraut

Friday - 7/11/2014, 3:15pm  ET

Inside a Silver Spring church community kitchen used by nonprofit Farm to Freezer (file photo)Montgomery County has put the word out for a private company willing to help fund and build a kitchen incubator, that would provide food start-ups with pricey kitchen space, equipment and marketing.

The county’s Department of Economic Development put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) on Wednesday seeking “an expert team” to help it host and build up food co-ops, nonprofits and other “food entrepreneurs.”

“The rapidly increasing demand for local products provides a unique opportunity to build health and wealth in Montgomery County,” County Executive Isiah Leggett said in a press release. “Our local farm and food-related businesses support our overall economic prosperity, act as good environmental stewards and strengthen our local food system. It is, therefore, in the best interest of all involved for the public and private sectors to work together and help pave the way for our food entrepreneurs to establish themselves in the marketplace.”

Basically, Montgomery County wants to harness that increasing demand for locally-sourced food by working with a private contractor to set up a commercial kitchen space and give the organizations in that space training, help packaging products, and access to large grocers and investors.

How exactly the incubator would be structured isn’t clear. It would be up to the county and selected contractor to work out the details. The DED is taking applications until 3 p.m. on July 31. (The RFP is below.)

“Our communities are diverse, and our food entrepreneurs reflect that. We want them to have a place to test their ideas, see how the market responds, and then support them as they build their business models accordingly,” said Dan Hoffman, the county’s chief innovation officer.

The best known local example of a kitchen incubator is probably Union Kitchen in D.C. The incubator is in a 7,300-square-foot warehouse with kitchen equipment already installed. It’s meant to provide a low-cost, low-risk way for almost 50 local food businesses to get established — but within a broader mission that’s fiercely local:

The true bottom line is the world we wake up to each morning. Washington, D.C. is being developed. Development can be an opportunity for us, as locals, to put a stamp on our city or an opportunity for large-scale developers and others to take advantage of the soaring real estate market to make themselves a buck (or, more likely, a few million). Union Kitchen is one piece of our effort to sculpt the future of D.C. A future that is grown organically, from within, to promote our businesses, to create our own culture, and to establish the community that we want to be waking up to each morning.

The Montgomery County kitchen incubator would be a public/private partnership. The Montgomery County Food Council pressed Leggett for the creation of the facility.