I stumbled across the phenomenon that I documented in a Gourmet News story called “Incubating Greatness in Shared Kitchen Spaces,” and it turned out to be a very fulfilling adventure. It started when I called some folks who’d become finalists for sofi Awards, the Specialty Food Association’s award for product innovation, and Kendra Coggin, the maker of Pernicious Pickling Company’s Pickled Carrots: Ginger & Spice, told me that she was making her pickled products in an incubator kitchen in Costa Mesa, California. Then I talked to Laurie Pauker of Laurie & Sons, who went on to win a sofi Award for her Dangerously Delicious Black Licorice Chocolate Toffee, and she told me that she also was working in an incubator kitchen. And then, at the Summer Fancy Food Show this year, I met the folks from Pipsnacks, whose Kettle Pipcorn won a sofi Award in the sweet snack category, and was told that their company had started in an incubator kitchen, moved into a second incubator as it grew, and was just about to move into its own space. By then it was more than clear that something very interesting is going on.
These kitchen incubators are structured to fill the gap between a cottage industry food producer and a business that’s ready to expand into regional sales — a gap that’s caused by the capital requirements of setting up in business to sell food to strangers. As you can read in the article, some of them are publicly funded, some are privately-owned, and they offer a range of facilities and services from simple rentals of processing kitchen space to one-stop-shops offering an array of educational and consulting services along with physical space.
While sales of organic foods are booming in this country, the number of acres actually devoted to producing that food is going down. What’s happening is that the American demand for organic food is driving us to import more, and we haven’t made it worthwhile for enough American farmers to turn to organic production. On the other hand, American farmers are exporting organic apples, lettuce, grapes, spinach and strawberries — just not enough to balance out all of the organic food we’re now importing. You can read more about this in an article I wrote for Gourmet News that you can find here.
This is very serious, and although it applies only to organic agricultural production, it’s an important symptom of what’s really happening to our American food system. In the United States, we’re used to thinking of ourselves as the nation that feeds the world, but we’re rapidly losing farms and farmers along with the wealth of agricultural knowledge that’s inside their heads. The average age of the American farmer is climbing towards 60, and as these farmers age out of farming, many of them have no succession plans for their land and operations. If this doesn’t change, it’s going to threaten our food supply and it’s going to result in the abandonment of this land or its redevelopment for other uses that will rob us of the important wildlife habitat that our farms provide as well as the other benefits that come from healthy land.
It appears that if you’re buying the cheapest olive oil you can get at your discount supermarket, you’re probably not getting extra virgin olive oil, regardless of what it says on the label. The olive oil experts say that it’s just not possible these days to make a quality extra virgin olive oil that’ll sell for $6 or $7 for a liter. What’s most likely really in that bottle is a blend of extra virgin olive oil with lower grade oils or refined oils. It’s all actually olive oil, since it’s easy to detect if the olive oil was blended with other vegetable oils, but it’s not likely to offer the health benefits that consumers are expecting when they decide to give olive oil a try. You can read more about all of this in an article I wrote for Gourmet News with Gaea North America CEO David Neuman, Extra Virgin Alliance Co-Founder Alexandra Devarenne and Maria Reyes, who’s a director, vendor management at KeHE Distributors.