Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 25, 2014

State grants foster local products at nonprofit

TRAVERSE CITY — Chocolate sauce, salsa and pesto are just a few foods coming out of a kitchen in Beulah.

Grow Benzie, a nonprofit that aims to reduce poverty through education in agriculture and other life skills, operates an incubator kitchen where people can become licensed and produce food, but its capacity is limited by a small space and part-time staff.

Participants regardless plow forward with their work, despite the limitations.

“We want to encourage small farmers to bring in berries and other vegetables and fruits if they want to process them into something they can then sell after the season is over,” said Bonnie Smith, the president of the Grow Benzie Board of Directors.

The people behind Grow Benzie will be able to pay for more sanitation equipment, a refrigerator, longer staff hours and more community outreach using a recently-awarded state grant.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development awarded grants under its Value Added and Regional Food System Grant Program. Grow Benzie applied with Hart-based Starting Block Kitchen Incubator, and the two will split $75,000.

“Grow Benzie will receive $37,500 to be put toward enhancing what we already have in the way of educating people to be more self-sufficient, through the incubator kitchen where a person can start, from beginning to end, in developing a product for market,” Smith said.

The grant program aims to promote Michigan agriculture by funding programs that foster regional and value- added food.

“It’s very valuable and very important in a state like Michigan where we grow so much good stuff,” said Nancy Nyquist, the grants program manager for MDARD. “Creating opportunities to add value to these products or innovation for people to add value to Michigan-grown products is really important to not only the food and agricultural industry, but our state’s economy.”

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