Rural Food Business Toolkit

A resource for growers, processors and food business owners.

Rural food businesses are growing. This toolkit from the Center for Rural Affairs provides resources to help rural food businesses succeed. 

The sections of this toolkit address steps throughout the supply chain that get products into consumers’ hands. The resources are primarily intended for value-added food processing business owners, and are also useful for commercial kitchen operators, farmers, distributors and anyone with an interest in great food and local businesses.

Index

About the Center for Rural Affairs
Section I: Commercial and shared-use kitchens
Section II: Value-added processing
Section III: Distribution
Section IV: Business incubation
Section V: Food safety
Section VI: Networks and other tools

To download, please click the link at the bottom of this page. For an interactive digital copy, please email sandrar@cfra.org.


About the Center for Rural Affairs

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, nonprofit organization with a mission to establish strong rural communities, social and economic justice, environmental stewardship and genuine opportunity for all while engaging people in decisions that affect the quality of their lives and the future of their communities.

The Center leads a variety of food system projects, addressing sustainable farm production, community gardens, farmers markets, farm to school and more. Through our work, we have identified interest and opportunity in rural food business expansion through value-added processing.

This toolkit was developed alongside a project aiding rural food entrepreneurs in northeast Nebraska, which provided in-person instruction and support. This project and toolkit are funded by United States Department of Agriculture Rural Business Development.

Section I: Commercial and shared-use kitchens

There are many commercial kitchens in schools, churches, meeting spaces, senior centers and more throughout rural communities. These kitchens can become community resources and provide opportunities to cultivate food processing and preparation businesses when they are opened up for shared use. The following resources can help commercial kitchens allow for shared use and help food producers access shared kitchens. 

Note: For the purpose of this guide, we’re defining a commercial kitchen as a licensed shared-use kitchen, or cooking area established to make food for selling purposes.

  • Licensing for both kitchens and users is required. Contact your state inspector to get started. If you have a kitchen you’d like to license, often the inspector is willing to survey it and let you know what is needed to pass inspection. 
  • If there is a kitchen in your community that is already licensed, contact your state inspector about getting a license to use it. This could be a church, school, community center, senior center or business. Be sure to talk to owners of the location about using it.

Renting a shared-use kitchen in eastern Nebraska

Kitchen equipment and other resources for building your own kitchen

Section II: Value-added processing

There are many reasons to get into value-added processing, the combining or transformation of raw food ingredients to create a product that is easier to use and market. For small farm and garden businesses, processing can create a high-value product that increases the business’s profit margins. In farm to school programs, minimally processed foods are easier for schools to use throughout the year, making them more marketable for the school cafeteria. In this section, you’ll find resources for fruit, vegetable and meat processing.

Fruit and vegetable processing

Meat processing

Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network - a network and info hub for people and organizations who want small meat processors to thrive. The network offers tools and information for small processors and the farmers, marketers and meat buyers who depend on them. 

Section III: Distribution

Growing businesses often need new distribution and marketing avenues to reach customers. These distribution resources can help you market and sell your food. In eastern Nebraska, these distributors and aggregators can help get your products to larger markets.

  • Kuper Farms - Norfolk, Neb., retail store providing local foods from northeast Nebraska and southeast South Dakota
  • Nebraska Food Cooperative - online, statewide - a marketing and distribution service designed to improve market access for farmer producers and local food access for consumers. Producers (farmers and ranchers) across Nebraska grow fresh food and list it on NebraskaFood.org for wholesale and retail sales and delivery.
  • Lone Tree Foods - based in Crete, Neb., wholesale in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa
  • Tomato Tomato - Omaha, Neb., farmers market, large multi-farm Community Supported Agriculture, wholesale, direct sales
  • FarmTable Procurement and Delivery - based in Harlan, Iowa, wholesale in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, has future plans for light processing services

Section IV: Business incubation

Incubators are highly flexible combinations of business development processes, infrastructure and people designed to nurture new and small businesses. Incubators help these businesses survive and grow through the difficult and vulnerable early stages of development. In this section, you’ll find existing and planned incubators in Nebraska, along with examples from other states.

Section V: Food safety

Food production requires solid food safety practices. Here are several reputable sources for food safety training and practices.

Section VI: Networks and other tools

Joining a network will help you learn more about others’ experiences. By connecting with others, you’ll learn about common challenges and successes, and you’ll find inspiration to move your business forward. In this section, you’ll find networks, centers and additional tools available as resources.

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PDF icon Rural Food Business Toolkit2.69 MB