Oberlin Culinary Enterprise To Develop Community Kitchen
The Oberlin Culinary Enterprise, a project that would create a shared-use commercial kitchen for the Oberlin community, had its general interest meeting on Wednesday night at the Oberlin Inn. An in-depth presentation and a community discussion were the culmination of a semester’s worth of effort for students who have been working with Politics Professor Eve Sandberg on the project.
Six of the 12 student members of the Oberlin Research Group gave the presentation on their 200-page feasibility study report, commissioned by the Oberlin Open Space Committee, detailing the logistics of the proposed OCE.
The group spent the last several months discovering ways to provide the community of Oberlin with a shared-use commercial kitchen, also known as a kitchen incubator, which would allow small business owners and individuals access to a licensed and insured kitchen to produce and store mass quantities of food. This project would also offer marketing assistance to new business owners.
The venture would potentially offer labeling and packing services to take some of the pressure off of the small businesses that might use the kitchen. The manager of the incubator will help ensure that those who use the kitchen have the correct licensing and will provide further technical assistance.
The evening opened with a video recording of an interview with local Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur from December 19, 2006. She spoke strongly about local foods projects, recalling with pride her father’s work as an independent produce dealer. She explained, “Small business people were not on the same turf, not on the same playing field, as big companies.
“Our community has been disconnected — the country from the town,” said Kaptur. Her concern for the town was founded in the realization that, for the first time in United States history, more food will be imported than exported in 2007.
Brad Masi, OC ’93 and executive director of the New Agrarian Center, began the presentation with a brief history of Oberlin student involvement in the local foods initiative. In 1988, students did a study on local foods and first encouraged Oberlin Student Cooperative Association and Bon Appétit to buy locally. Thanks to this effort, the College spent $10,000 on local foods in 1990 and now spends $900,000 annually supporting local farmers and businesses.
College junior Juliet Lu, an ORG presenter, suggested that the OCE could link producers with the local food market, and would be a perfect venue for students doing science experiments and taking home economics courses.
The presentation detailed the various research methods used to gain insight into similar projects and what it would take to make a kitchen incubator work in Oberlin. There are 33 sites similar to the proposed OCE in the nation.
College junior Leah Gage reported that an estimated $130,000 would be needed to retrofit the most viable site, located at 129-133 S. Main Street, and buy equipment.
“I would recommend that somebody start writing grants,” joked Helen Hare, a College sophomore and ORG presenter.
Despite community concerns about the longevity of this project and continued student involvement, both Sandberg and her students had hopes for its future.
Hare envisioned the OCE improving Oberlin’s community resources. “I think it would be great if it did provide more jobs and more business opportunities for low to moderate income residents.”
Replying to a community member’s question about who would take over after this research phase, Sandberg said “Students rotate…there needs to be a conversation with a smaller group of people,” to see who has interest and who can continue developing the OCE.
College senior and member of the ORG Gabriel Morden-Snipper saw the OCE as an opportunity for students and community members to learn from one another. “It would be great if OSCA could get on board early. They have so much resources and know-how and energy to make this project happen.”
“There are no business courses [at Oberlin] and working on a project like this will give you business experience,” Morden-Snipper said.