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Food Innovation Center can boost availability of local foods in region
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Food Innovation Center can boost availability of local foods in region

From the The next big thing: Highlighting innovation in the Madison area marketplace series
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If a vibrant Market Hall filled with vendors, events and music delivers the pizzazz to the Madison Public Market, the adjacent Food Innovation Center offers enormous potential to increase the availability of local foods throughout the region, supporters say.

The three-story, 15,000- square-foot food-processing facility and training center for food-based workers will be attached to the market.

The innovation center will include food processing and storage capacities to meet the needs of vendors in the market, but also include larger-scale food-processing opportunities focused on getting more local food to bigger buyers, city business manager Daniel Kennelly said.

The facility also will let food businesses develop products and test ideas without huge upfront investments and offer space for things like community meetings and cooking and nutrition classes, he said.

Already, the city is having conversations with REAP Food Group, a local nonprofit promoting a healthy, environmentally and economically sustainable food system, Kennelly said. The innovation center, he said, can help connect more regional farmers to institutional food buyers such as schools, hospitals and companies that are interested in sourcing local food but lack the logistics.

“The Public Market is providing the space that is desperately needed,” consultant Amanda White said.

Meanwhile, the city is talking with the newly launched FoodWorks Program started by restaurateurs Jonny Hunter and Tory Miller to have its culinary workforce training program happen in the innovation center, Kennelly said.

“Restaurants and other food businesses struggle to find, train and retain workers,” he said. “The Food Innovation Center can help strengthen this important and growing component of our economy.”

The innovation center will be different than FEED Kitchens on the North Side, a community commercial kitchen with space rented at hourly rates, Kennelly said. The innovation center, he said, will serve internal businesses at the Public Market and accommodate specific training and processing functions.

“The two facilities will really complement each other well,” he said.

As the Public Market and Food Innovation Center get up and running, the city’s adjacent 50,000-square-foot Fleet Services Building, which has open bays, tall ceilings and large overhead doors, will be vacated in 2021, creating an opportunity for expansion, Kennelly said.

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The city is parting ways with a private landowner/developer and changing the location of the coming $13.2 million Madison Public Market back to the site of its Fleet Services building at the corner of North First and East Johnson streets.

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