By GRETCHEN MURRAY
Special to the Record-Eagle
---- — BENZONIA -- Grow Benzie opened its new incubator kitchen a scant two months ago, but the facility already is proving to be a valuable resource for Benzie County entrepreneurs.
The nonprofit farmstead’s 1,600-square-foot commercial kitchen in Benzonia offers workspace at reasonable hourly rates to small food production businesses that don’t have their own licensed facility. And volunteer instructors are ready to offer advice and suggestions for others interested in testing the waters in the local food production marketplace.
At the moment one person is using the kitchen’s equipment to make bread, and 10 others are going through the application process, Grow Benzie director Deb Query said.
Grow Benzie will take its program a step further this fall by offering a free, eight-week series of workshops titled “Making It Count” and designed to lead participants through the basic steps of starting their own food product business.
Kitchen manager Lisa Manrow said the national and global movement toward buying locally is ripe with interest in food product startups.
“Benzie has a large agricultural community, and overall the growing-local food movement is inspiring people to turn their food interests into personal businesses,” Manrow said.
The Monday evening workshops begin Sept. 9 and continue through Oct. 28, each starting with an informal potluck dinner at 5:30 p.m. followed by the weekly presentation at 6:30 p.m.
The Sept. 9 workshop “How We Did It” introduces Simone Scarpace of Wee Bee Jammin’, her Bear Lake retail store and online business that features locally produced jam and honey products.
“Simone will share how she turned a fun pastime into a full-time business that started in a similar incubator kitchen, and we’re excited to have her start off the series by sharing her inspiring story,” Manrow said.
Scarpace began making her products in 2008 at The Starting Block incubator kitchen in Hart and turned to her recipe file after becoming discontented with a job that required steady weekend work.
“I’d been making jam for over 30 years when fruit was in season, then giving it as gifts,” Scarpace said. “I wanted to try marketing it on my own, and from the get-go the people at the kitchen had all kinds of ideas for making the business work.”
Scarpace said that the opportunity to network with others and get ideas from her peers made the 3-1/2 years it took to get the business established a positive experience.
“There were a lot of helping hands for me, and I want to do that, as well. There’s room for everybody in this field,” she said.
Subsequent sessions include “Marketing Part I: Your Label” on Sept. 16 with Marcus Christian of Pickle Print and Marketing of Traverse City. Christian will discuss creating an attractive label and using it in developing a brand.
“Taking Reasonable Risks” on Sept. 23 will feature Sue Webber from Webber Insurance in Benzonia. She'll offer suggestions on insurance coverage and tips on finding the best rates.
The Sept. 30 workshop, “Marketing Part II: Price? Package? Promotion?” will be a case study of Food for Thought with Timothy Young from Food for Thought presenting overall marketing for a food product business, along with Grow Benzie board member Peter French.
The series continues in October with “Getting Started.” Manrow provides the basic steps to acquaint participants with the incubator kitchen on Oct. 7.
The Oct. 14 program topic will be announced at a later time, but the Oct. 21 program “I’ll Sell Your Product” will feature Alex Pineau from Evergreen Market in Williamsburg offering information on wholesaling, including the use of price sheets and web presence.
Sessions conclude Oct. 28 with the presentation “How to Package Your Product” by Mary and Terry from TM Klein & Sons of St. Charles, who will discuss the various types, sizes, shapes and costs of food-safe packaging.
“The goal is for someone really interested in food production to attend the entire series, or if someone thinks there are one or two missing links in their food processing endeavor, and they want to learn more about a subject they can attend that specific workshop,” Manrow said. “It’s also a place for like-minded folks starting into the food production business to be able to network together.”
The free workshops are open to everyone. Pre-registration is not required. Grow Benzie is located at 5885 M-115 in Benzonia. For details, call Deb Query, 231-882-9510, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.growbenzie.org.