New partnership connects farmers with food entrepreneurs

A new partnership will connect food entrepreneurs with local farmers in an effort to expand food production in St. Charles Parish.

The partnership brings a large database of area growers from the Food and Farm Network of New Orleans in contact with users of Norco’s Edible Enterprises, a commercial kitchen space that smaller producers can rent on an hourly basis. The hope is that those entrepreneur producers will use vegetables and fruit from local farmers when they make their special spices and sauces in Norco.

The partnership comes at a time when Edible Enterprises is facing growing competition from a similar incubator recently completed in Baton Rouge.

The Norco incubator is geared toward businesspeople with a food-based idea who don’t necessary have the capital to invest in large-scale equipment, such as commercial stoves.

“We’ve had some tenants that have outgrown [Edible Enterprises],” Corey Faucheux, economic development director for St. Charles Parish, said. “It’s just the nature of the success of the facility.”

The Food and Farm Network has been working for more than 10 years to bring profitability to the local farming industry. One of the challenges they face is turning those agricultural products into shelf-stable products, and then getting those products into the market. The group’s presence at Edible Enterprises will  connect producers with local farm sources while also providing assistance securing licenses and permits for entrepreneurs from low-income or marginalized backgrounds.

“The key to our success is getting people into the facility, building their businesses, and maybe after 18 to 24 months they become big enough to start looking for co-packing facilities with more space,” Sanjay Kharod, the executive director of the Food and Farm Network, said. “Then new businesses will come in to the incubator.”

Edible Enterprises opened its doors in Norco in 2009, and has helped numerous brands find their way onto grocery store shelves. The commercial kitchen initially charges food entrepreneurs a $300 administrative fee and then rents the space for $20 per hour.

Kharod said the partnership should bring even more suppliers and budding business owners to Edible Enterprises.

These possibly include such farmers as Kathy Blahut, a regular attendee of the German Coast Farmers’ Market. She said her strawberry farm on the northshore planted its fewest seeds in the farm’s 110-year history.

“I would appreciate being connected to producers,” she said.The partnership is one of a handful of projects touted by the parish’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism as bringing more prosperity into the parish. At a recent council meeting, Faucheux said those projects include an as-yet-undisclosed corporate headquarters that could bring more than 160 jobs with an average pay of $100,000 to the parish, as well as expansion projects from Entergy and Valero.

The Edible Enterprises partnership builds on growing trends in small-scale entrepreneurship and locally-sourced production. The “locavore” movement has been gaining steam in the  Greater New Orleans Area, where groups regularly challenge residents to spend a week eating only what comes from within 100 miles of the city.

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