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MAZOMANIE — A commercial-sized kitchen where farmers and culinary entrepreneurs can sauce tomatoes, pickle cucumbers or bake cookies is up and running in this western Dane County village, and is one of half a dozen "incubator" kitchens in the works throughout southern Wisconsin.

The idea is to spawn dozens of food-based companies by providing access to critical business development assistance as well as larger, faster ovens, restaurant-grade equipment and more work space found in licensed commercial kitchens.

"The real goal, in addition to sustainability, is economic development," said Dan Viste, owner of the Mazomanie Heritage Kitchen and Market, which opened late last year. "There seems to be this emerging interest in people who want to know where their food is coming from. If they buy local for the most part they can find out where it came from and what method was used to bring it that far."

Leaders of the various incubator kitchens have collaborated with UW-Extension, which has built a network for them to share contacts, equipment and ideas in an effort to keep community kitchens moving forward.

Statewide there are three other operating kitchen incubators — Algoma Farm Market Kitchen near Green Bay, a kitchen in the Coulee Region Business Center in La Crosse and one in Monroe — in addition to Viste's, said Anne Pfeiffer, agricultural innovation specialist with UW Extension.

"We had been hearing a lot of requests from people for incubator kitchens," Pfeiffer said.

Last year, Thrive, UW-Extension and other regional partners, announced $110,000 to support the development of incubators in Monroe, Mazomanie, Beloit and Madison. Kitchen incubator projects in Mineral Point and Prairie du Chien also are in the works.

While the individual projects differ slightly, each is designed to offer a licensed kitchen space that can be rented hourly by people who want to sell their products. The incubators also will provide marketing and technical assistance to get products and businesses up and running.

"Having the network formed allows them to collaborate in the way they're doing their projects," Pfeiffer said.

Pickled beets to sugar cookies

The Mazomanie Heritage Kitchen and Market is housed in the former Whistle Stop Cafe, which Viste owned for six years years but closed last fall. He envisions the space as a place where farmers and small business owners can process and sell everything from pickled beets to sugar cookies, in addition to having a small restaurant space.

Lucy Jones, of LuSid Baking Adventures, is currently his only user and has rented the space for several hours twice a month since November. During a session earlier this week she made 34 dozen cookies using the kitchen's convection oven that bakes hotter and faster than the traditional oven she has at home.

"It's just nice because you don't have to invest in a lot of equipment," said Jones, who runs her cookie business with her daughter, Sidney. "Overall it's a pretty low-risk investment. For me it was just the perfect thing."

Jones, who works full-time job as a hair stylist in Spring Green, sells her cut-out cookies by word of mouth. During the holidays she baked, iced and sold 230 dozen. On Monday she was baking heart-shaped cutouts for a prom fundraiser at her daughter's high school.

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Jones said her sales are enough to cover her expenses and at this point she's happy with the size of her business.

Mazomanie's Heritage Kitchen — like any commercial kitchen — needed to be inspected and licensed by the state Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection before it could be used as an incubator. The person using the kitchen, and his or her recipes, are also required to be licensed.

A different focus

The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen now being constructed in Mineral Point, about 50 miles southwest of Madison, will have a slightly different focus.

The new 1,500-square-foot kitchen within a 10,000-square-foot warehouse and processing facility will be a place where about 30 adults with disabilities will continue to make Papa Pat's Farmhouse Recipe products as part of the Hodan Center, a facility that provides work services, food services and enrichment activities for adults with disability.

"We're growing to the point where we need a bigger place to produce our products," said Tom Schraeder, Hodan Center's executive director.

Papa Pat's products include jams, pickles, relishes and mixes for soups, muffins, pancakes and cookies.

The Hodan Center will use the new certified kitchen during regular business hours and it will be available for rent on nights and weekends, Schraeder said. The kitchen, which will be an extension of the Hodan Center, should be completed by March and the kitchen ready to use by this summer.

A kitchen in Madison

In Madison, members of the North Side Planning Council are interested in starting a community kitchen and still are deciding on a location.

"Our plan is that we want to raise the funds to pay for the building, and one year's operational expenses before we break ground," possibly in 2011, said Ellen Barnard, who chairs the council.  She said that figure is estimated to be $500,000.

Barnard said preliminary plans call for one multi-station rental kitchen for caterers, food cart vendors or people who want to do canning and a second training kitchen for cooking classes. The idea would be to train people who are unemployed or under-employed in food service industry, she said.

The North Side also has several pockets of Hmong and Hispanic women who would like to make and sell their own products, she said.

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