FREDERICKTOWN — The Local Food Council, which meets monthly at Kenyon College and is comprised of farmers, producers, food service personnel, interested citizens and students, has long planned to create a community kitchen somewhere in Knox County. The kitchen would be one of only three in Ohio.
Such a kitchen would be licensed commercially and could be rented by gardeners, bakers, growers and producers who want to clean and package vegetables, blanche vegetables and prepare them for freezing, bake breads, make salsa and pickles or can vegetables. Currently, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Knox County Health Department prohibit farmers market vendors from selling processed foods such as pickles and salsa unless they are produced in a certified and licensed commercial kitchen.
John Marsh, who heads up the Local Food Council, said the group is still trying to work out the details, and such a kitchen has not yet been made official or opened for use. However, food council members are encouraged because a kitchen with such potential is being discussed.
At the old Fredericktown High School, the kitchen stands empty. The building is now home to the Fredericktown schools administrative offices, a walking track and gym for public use, and will also soon be the site of a Knox Community Hospital wellness center and a senior center open to all seniors in the county.
Dan Humphrey, who will retire as superintendent of the Fredericktown School District, is the district’s contact for leasing or renting space in the building.
“The kitchen is very preliminary, but it has potential,” he said. “From the standpoint of the schools, we’re interested in recouping some of the costs of the building, so we can put a new roof on the building, for example.
“But ... we’re not even sure [a community kitchen] is going to fly. There needs to be someone in place to assure that the space will be taken care of. If there’s someone out there who has a million dollar grant ... ”
Not that modifying the kitchen would cost quite that much money. Paul Higgins, a member of the food council and a certified executive chef, said the Knox County Health Department and the ODA have approved the kitchen as it is. There is much work to do, however, such as cleaning, having the utilities turned on, rejuvenating the appliances, and securing ODA licenses for separate food operations such as baking, canning and freezing.
“The way the kitchen is currently set up, with very little modification, it could be turned into a kitchen for baking first,” said Higgins.
What remains a matter of speculation is whether anyone is interested in renting and utilizing the kitchen this year.
“If the interest and demand are there, the kitchen can come to life,” said Higgins. “It’s really a progression that is predicated on the demand.”
For now, officials will wait, hoping to hear from growers, producers and those who operate cottage industries that they are interested in supporting the community kitchen and preparing the kinds of foods that can be legally sold at Knox County farmers markets.
To contact the Local Food Council, call OSU Extension-Knox County at 397-0401.