FEASIBILITY STUDY FUELED BY HUNGER FOR CULINARY ARTS

Janet Hartman of Hartman Gardens offers a sample of jam to customer Linda Patton at the 2013 Montrose Farmers Market in this Mirror file photo by Barton Glasser. A possible commercial kitchen adjacent to the market could make it easier for those hoping to produce and market value-added agricultural products.

Janet Hartman of Hartman Gardens offers a sample of jam to customer Linda Patton at the 2013 Montrose Farmers Market in this Mirror file photo by Barton Glasser. A possible commercial kitchen adjacent to the market could make it easier for those hoping to produce and market value-added agricultural products.

By Caitlin Switzer

MONTROSE–(May 20, 2014)  Since arriving in Montrose just months ago, Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Director Wade Nichols has consumed most of his meals out within the confines of the district. Now, Nichols is hoping others will follow suit–and that they will begin to consider Downtown Montrose as a culinary hot spot and a resource for foodies throughout the region and the state.

Thanks to a collaborative effort with Valley Food Partnership, the DDA will receive $11,380 in funding from the Colorado Department of Agriculture to conduct a feasibility study for a regional food hub in Downtown Montrose–a thorough study that includes a certified commercial kitchen and business incubator, and which will look at potential legal structures and examine in detail aspects such as succession planning and sustainability.

“We have been looking to develop a kitchen and food hub operation in the property adjacent to the Farmers Market on Uncompahgre Events Plaza,” Nichols said in a news release issued May 7. “These matching funds will help measure the need for services, set out a business model, and specify the equipment and facilities we need. We are hoping that this will help us to create new food businesses, as well as see new restaurants and cafes in the Downtown area.”

The project has generated enthusiasm and support from an array of potential community partners, including the Region 10 League for Economic Assistance and Planning, LiveWell Montrose Olathe, Straw Hat Farm, the City of Montrose, Montrose Memorial Hospital, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Tri-River Extension, The Montrose Farmers Market and Western Colorado Community College.

“By engaging collaborators who are interested in using the facility as a place for developing value-added products, creating new businesses, lodging a local food distribution center, providing cooking, nutrition and food preservation classes, hosting product demos or catering downtown events, the facility would ultimately be more sustainable,”  Valley Food Partnership President Carol Parker said.

The sheer level of that collaboration will be essential to the project’s ultimate success as well.

“A lot of people came to the table for this,” Nichols said. “This is innovative for Montrose, and it’s important. We see this as ground zero for small market agriculture here in Colorado—you don’t have to have 150 acres. Growers are doing amazing things on small plots. And with a commercial kitchen that allows for the testing of new ideas, interest in the culinary arts will increase tremendously.”

Once the contract is finalized, Nichols said that a formal RFP will be issued for the feasibility study. The process will be transparent and accountable throughout, he added.

“We want everyone to share honestly and casually what they really want to see,” he said. “We want to research restaurants and institutional buyers; I am hoping to involve most of the restaurants in the Montrose area, and to encourage growers and others to look at new ideas.

“We are hoping for an incubation aspect as well,” he added, “so that anyone wanting to open a restaurant can use the commercial kitchen to try things out.”

Though Montrose and the surrounding communities already have an excellent selection of regional Hispanic cuisine, there are many possibilities that remain to be explored, Nichols said.

And while the team already has ideas about where it wants to go, the feasibility study will help to refine and target the mission.

“We have good ideas, but with a consultant we can carefully specify the space and storage, and figure out exactly what we need,” Nichols said. “And we can put together a business plan, so we have a model of how to organize.

“I think you will see more of our smaller growers get serious when they see what can happen with a food hub and a commercial kitchen right here,” he said.

The Montrose Downtown Development Authority can be reached at 970-901-9667. The Valley Food Partnership can be reached at 970-240-0421.