Who’s Using the Rural Food Business Growth Helpline?

Last November, with the help of a USDA Rural Business Development Grant, the Center launched the Rural Food Business Growth project providing technical assistance and resources, along with a helpline for rural food growers and food businesses to contact for assistance. This project focuses on five counties in northeast Nebraska: Burt, Cuming, Stanton, Thurston and Wayne.

So, who is using this helpline?

  • A baker of artisan breads from Wayne, Neb., wishing to locate convection ovens to lessen time prepping for farmers’ markets instead of spending several days at home using a standard oven. We helped her connect to two commercial kitchen spaces for rent near her.
  • A home gardener from Stanton, Neb., wishing to find a licensed kitchen to process produce to make jams and jellies for farmers’ markets and direct sales instead of using her home kitchen. We gave her a tour of a nearby commercial kitchen and let her know how she could rent it.
  • An outreach associate of a religious organization in Winnebago, Neb., working on food access in a food desert. They want to convert a church kitchen into a licensed kitchen. This kitchen will be used by community gardeners who need space to process and prepare food items for farmers’ market sales, direct sales and retail sales. We invited their team to join a nearby safe food handling course for farmers’ market vendors, and connected them to a state licensing inspector and to a consultant who provided suggestions for their kitchen.
  • A farmer from Lyons, Neb., already selling excess produce to a nearby school seeking support and resources for getting their business online utilizing social media.

How else is this project helping people in northeast Nebraska?

  • We sent a farmer, community gardener, farmers’ market manager and home-based food business owners to Recipe to Reality at the UNL Food Processing Center in Lincoln to learn more about regulations, licensing, processing, testing and more to determine if they were ready to take their businesses to the next level. The individuals were from Macy and Lyons, Neb.
  • We’ve provided resources; panel discussions with regulatory, food safety, and licensing and labeling experts; and tours at two licensed kitchen spaces available for rent in Wayne and West Point, Neb., to over 25 individuals and businesses involved in vegetable, fruit and small livestock production.
  • We worked with the Macy Garden to Market program to provide a safe food handling resource to 17 vendors. A state inspector provided information on state compliance, safe food handling practices, and licensing for vendors and kitchens.
  • We’ve connected food hubs, food distributors and local food procurement specialists to learn how to better connect farmers to them, and how to better connect them with schools.

Using the helpline is easy and simple! All you have to do is call or email me, Sandra Renner, Project Specialist at the Center for Rural Affairs, at 402.320.3444 or sandrar@cfra.org to start the conversation. And, if you’ve missed out on these opportunities, there is more to come as the online toolkit is launched this fall and two more workshops will be hosted. I hope that you will join us to learn more and join in on building a hub for local foods in northeast Nebraska.