A throng of people awaited the arrival of Governor Susana Martínez outside of the Food Venture Center commercial kitchen in Española for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The festive mood resembled an old-time community celebration. The people gathered on this sunny October day mingled and shared stories centered on how this working-class community of 10,000 had succeeded through a process of collaboration to reopen this important community resource as part of the emerging Northern New Mexico Food Hub.
In her speech, the governor highlighted that intensive agriculture together with small businesses that turn agriproducts into delectable foodstuffs represent an area of the state’s economy that is swiftly growing. The reopening of this kitchen after a hiatus of several years, under the auspices of Siete del Norte and, specifically, under the supervision of Steve Vigil, is evidence of a trend reflecting growing interest and viability of regional food production. Other collaborating entities responsible for this initiative are the city of Española, Río Arriba County and Northern New Mexico College.
Siete del Norte, a northern New Mexico economic-development corporation, leveraged federal funding to establish and maintain the Northern New Mexico Food Hub as a centralized aggregating, processing and distribution center for produce from the Española Valley. The food hub’s core mission is to unite government agencies, for-profit businesses and nonprofit enterprises in a regional collaboration designed to provide low-income families with the tools and resources they need to capitalize on small-farming and food-entrepreneurial activities.
Over the last two years, a total of $730,000 in state funding was secured to start the commercial kitchen and build a food hub. Various state legislators voted for this measure, including Sen. Richard Martínez, Rep. Nick Salazar, Rep. Debbie Rodella, Rep. Stephanie García Richard and Rep. Carl Trujillo.
Another partner in the project, Delicious New Mexico (DNM), is a nonprofit that supports the starting-up and scaling-up of value-added food businesses statewide. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted the organization $100,000 in 2014 to work with Siete del Norte, specifically to help the Food Venture Center attract clients such as small food businesses in Española to help them become established or grow while using the commercial kitchen.
DNM’s team of food-business promoters and mothers attended Valley Entrepreneurial Network (VEN) meetings to become familiar with the Española community and hold monthly Idea Lab workshops to provide new food businesses an overview of local resources. They also sponsored a workshop with Santa Fe lawyer Gretchen Elsner, who reviewed legal aspects of food businesses and answered specific questions from up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
In 2016, DNM will continue to offer workshops to assist Food Venture Center clients in growing their businesses and accessing new markets. Many of these workshops are bilingual, and Ross Griego, the translator and business consultant, has introduced many participants and potential kitchen clients through his Empezando classes, a 12-week program designed to support new businesses. Not all are food businesses, so the DNM’s workshops are a natural evolution for the course’s graduates. Española’s Small Business Development Center has provided the space for the workshops, as well as for additional business mentoring with Ida Carillo.
The commercial kitchen is a much-needed and welcome resource for the local agriculture community in the valley, as well as a potential catalyst for the development of many startup food businesses. It is located at the Johnson Control Building, on the Northern New Mexico College Campus, just off Railroad Avenue.