FoodChain adding kitchen to teach food processing, cooking

A rendering of the FoodChain Kitchen, which will be part of the Bread Box building that houses West Sixth Brewery, 501 W. Sixth St.
A rendering of the FoodChain Kitchen, which will be part of the Bread Box building that houses West Sixth Brewery, 501 W. Sixth St. Tate Hill Jacobs Architects

FoodChain, a Lexington nonprofit focused on accessible and sustainable ways to feed local residents, has been awarded a two-year $450,000 grant from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust that will go to build a teaching and processing kitchen. An additional $22,000 was raised through a crowd-sourcing campaign that reached many new donors.

The kitchen will be next to the indoor aquaponics farm in the Bread Box, next to West Sixth Brewery.

“The kitchen is the next big expansion for FoodChain. It fits under our larger umbrella of forging new links within the community with food,” said Becca Self, FoodChain’s executive director. “We started with production, and now we’re going on to preparation and processing.”

Construction will begin soon on the kitchen and should be completed by early 2017, she said, when they hope to begin offering after school and other kinds of programming in the teaching side. Staff will focus on teaching food prep including knife skills and home-cooking demonstrations that might have been taught in home economics classes, she said.

“We’re trying to make it as comfortable as possible for people to learn how to cook fresh Kentucky-grown products,” she said.

The fresh produce will come through a partnership with GleanKY, which works with local farms to use seconds and other unused fruits and vegetables.

Once people have learned skills in the teaching kitchen, they might be able to get full-time livingwage jobs in the processing kitchen, Self said. That side will take the massive amounts of produce that comes through GleanKY in harvest season to process and preserve food for use later in the season.

“One of the challenges for Glean is that because of seasonality of food, it all comes in at one time,” Self said. “If we get 20 bushels of corn, how do we get this to people in a consumable form? If we can take it, process it and make it shelf-stable so will last longer, we can spread it out. We’re focusing a lot on frozen foods and we anticipate puréed foods, as well as bagged materials.”

The processed food will go back out through GleanKY’s network to feeding kitchens and food pantries, she said.

GleanKY “has been growing steadily since 2010, picking up surplus fresh produce from farms, markets and groceries and delivering it to agencies and families who are food insecure,” GleanKy executive director Stephanie Wooten said in a news release.

“In this time, we’ve kept nearly 1 million pounds of food out of the waste stream and connected it to 50,000 individuals through partnerships with 60 agencies. We’re excited for the opportunity to add FoodChain’s new kitchen to our network in an effort to provide our agencies with produce in a more convenient and shelf-stable form.”

Eventually, FoodChain plans to open a neighborhood green grocery that would sell processed goods, and there are plans to partner with some Fayette County public schools to use some of the food.

“We’ll roll out slowly. ... Slowly opening in the winter time will give us time to prep,” she said. “I think kids might be the first inhabitants. There is a big need for after-school in the area as well as culinary interest. We did a program this summer at Harrison Elementary to teach cooking with fresh ingredients, and we had about 13 kids throughout the course of the seven-week program. So we know the interest is there.”

She hopes to expand the “Cook, Eat, Grow” program to William Wells Brown and Arlington Elementary schools this fall.

“We’re getting them comfortable with a peeler and a knife, things you take for granted if you have grown up with fresh food,” she said.