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Food for Thought: From Manitoba Farms to the Table

April 1, 2017 8:48 AM | Columns

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman

Kitchen - Stove - Dishwasher

NEEPAWA, Man. — Agriculture is extremely important to our region, but as many people know, the real money isn’t in primary production. In agriculture, changing a commodity into a more finished product adds greatly to its value.

There are many companies, including Neepawa-based Farmery Brewery who have taken this route. They not only make beer from their barley, they have also started packaging it into products, such as cake mixes.

The problem is that going from farmer to middleman is an expensive step. For those looking to produce food products, it’s also one mired in regulations and red tape. In Manitoba, food produced for public consumption must be prepared in a certified and inspected commercial kitchen, which is an expensive undertaking for an individual entrepreneur armed only with an idea.

The province has made it slightly easier for people to dip a toe in the industry by establishing less stringent rules for vendors at farmers’ markets. There, vendors are allowed to sell products that haven’t been made in an approved kitchen, provided they don’t contain any potentially hazardous foods. Manitoba Health inspectors consider hazardous foods to include meat or meat products, poultry or poultry products, milk or milk products or any food with these products as ingredients. This means that products such as homemade perogies, cabbage rolls, sandwiches and cream-filled pastries can only be sold if they’ve been made, packaged and labelled by an approved establishment.

Anyone wanting to sell in any other environment, including selling pastries to the local tea house, must prepare their food in a kitchen that holds a Food Service Establishment permit issued by Manitoba Health.

Located in halls and community centres, rural Manitoba towns are full of approved kitchens, but few have taken the step of advertising and making these spaces available for rent. Last week in Neepawa, Jayne Kjaldgaard, of Manitoba Agriculture’s Food and Agri-Processing branch, spoke to a group in Neepawa about this very issue. Kjaldgaard helps maintain the province’s list of community kitchens available for rent and can help connect kitchens with food entrepreneurs looking for kitchen space. There are currently 30 kitchens on the province’s list, but none in the Neepawa Banner’s coverage area. The closest are in Dauphin (Parkland Crossing) and Brandon (Global Market Community Kitchen). There isn’t even one in Portage.

This idea is a win-win for both groups. It gives community facilities another revenue source using existing infrastructure. These facilities already rent out their kitchens when needed for hall rentals, but few offer rentals the other way around. For entrepreneurs, it gives them access to a place where they can legally prepare any food they wish to sell. They only have to obtain a permit from the Health Inspector, which is free.

The viability of rural communities depends on the ingenuity of their residents and their ability to diversify. Making food products is a logical step in an area that produces an abundance of agricultural products — from grains, to fruits, to vegetables, to meats. These types of mutually beneficial partnerships can create much-needed revenue streams for both individuals and groups.