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Incubators and specialty farmers: A value-added partnership with room to grow

by Andrea Gibson

December 1998

Business incubators are linked to economic development of all sorts but not often do you hear them touted as a way to save the family farm. However, incubators are just starting to examine how they can help farmers squeeze the most value out of their crops while providing specialty food producers a steady, specific supply of produce.

An agribusiness incubator and local food processing center being developed in central Maryland, in the midst of the food distribution network for the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., region, is the latest and perhaps most ambitious project of the sort. The project has attracted both growers and entrepreneurial food processors, says Phil Gottwals, principal of Agricultural and Community Development, who is acting as project developer.

The project has two goals for working with the farming community. Not only does the incubation center want to offer farmers the opportunity to develop their own value-added specialty food products but also create an outlet for their produce. For every farmer who has identified a market for a product idea, Gottwals says, there are 10 others who would be glad to produce food for someone else's product.

Of course, kitchen incubators, specialty food businesses and growers all face challenges in making this marriage work. Food industry officials agree that the partnership is still in its infancy around the country, but once established, can offer economic growth for farmers and incubator companies.

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Keywords: kitchen incubator, networking activities -- client, rural incubator, special-focus incubator

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