Earlier this year, the local Johnson True Value Hardware Store in Mt. Pulaski moved to a new, larger location in town. This left their former location vacant. The owner of the store, Doug Johnson, has been keyed into this project from the beginning and is a major supporter of our community and its economic growth. We arranged a deal to purchase the property from him that was affordable for us while also still making the purchase worth his while.
Currently, the building is a simple, 4,000-square-foot concrete block construction. This space will be renovated to serve as the commercial kitchen, as well as offices and dry storage.
The addition, currently planned to be 5,200 square feet, will be built on the adjoining lot of the property, which hosted a greenhouse that has since been purchased by Fox Path Farm in Mt. Pulaski. This addition will house our fresh food processing line, blast freezer, refrigerated and frozen storage, and incoming and outgoing bay doors. It will also be taller than the existing building, to accommodate stacked crates in our cold storage using a forklift. The two buildings will be connected by a wide corridor.
As we were in the planning stages, we learned from one of our board members that the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has a division that will create designs and floor layouts for food facilities at no cost. We have worked with them so far to create the draft of a floor plan, which you can view on this page. This layout already requires updates as we dig deeper into our research and development, but the free design work allows us to show both you and local builders what we are trying to create.
Processing line: In the beginning, we will invest in more generalized food processing machines, and some that are only partially automated, calling for skilled human labor in tandem. However, we have planned on one specialized piece of processing equipment. Sweet corn is a crop that many of our growers can grow a lot of, is of great appeal to buyers, and is also highly perishable. It’s a great candidate for our facility, so we budgeted for a special machine that shucks and shells whole sweet corn cobs.
Blast freezing: Similarly, while individual quick freezing (IQF) is a highly desirable method of freezing food, there are other means that can produce a similar product without creating a massive burden of debt right from the start. This mid-level equipment is the smarter move for our cooperative, giving us flexibility to change course if need be while also employing more local people to get the job done.
Cold storage: Our facility will include 2,000 square feet each of refrigerated and frozen storage, for temporary storage of fresh produce and holding finished frozen product, as well as for rent by local growers.
Commercial kitchen: Freezing of many crops, such as sweet corn, requires a blanching stage. This calls for large burners and vents. The planning for a blanching set-up requires many of the pieces of a licensed commercial kitchen. A licensed commercial kitchen is, by itself, an immensely valuable component of a local food system, allowing food business entrepreneurs the chance to expand their production in a food-safe facility without having to invest in a cost-prohibitive space of their own. Therefore, we decided to include a finished kitchen in our plans, to be used by our cooperative when processing and freezing incoming produce, and to be rented by producers and other local food entrepreneurs in off-peak hours.