Matthew Kottenstette, a farmer at Thistle Whistle Farm, and Megan MacMillan, a local chef, have embarked on a huge endeavor to provide a commercial kitchen and a community center to serve all of Delta County. The community center would be a place students could go to after school.
The commercial kitchen would be available for local growers to prepare their fruits and vegetables for sale. They want to serve the needs of the smaller farmer or rancher who presently can't supply a grocery chain, but with combining their produce with others a specific brand-named product could be produced and sold. That would increase the income for the smaller producer.
Having a commercial kitchen and a community center sounds a lot like a grange, but Kottenstette and MacMillan want one large enough for the county.
"That's one of our big struggles right now. Finding the right place for it. The county is set up like a bow tie geographically with Paonia and Crawford, Hotchkiss and then over toward Cedaredge, Orchard City and Delta. I really feel Hotchkiss is a central location, so it seems like right now that might be the best location for it," Kottenstette said.
One aspect that will need to be resolved for this project to work is to break down the walls between the communities. He has seen groups from the North Fork clash with others from the western part of the county. "This could be a good opportunity to ease that clash and I think it is something that Cedaredge, Eckert, Delta are interested in," Kottenstette said. "I know people are coming from that direction this way and from this direction that way, so [Hotchkiss] is the spot where people come through regardless." He believes having a centralized food hub makes sense for Hotchkiss.
"One thing people have said is that they are worried about 'watering down' community organizations that are already existing like the community grange or the Trading Post in Paonia, but I think the problem with a lot of those is that they don't have a location that works for a lot of people," he said. "Especially here in Hotchkiss, I feel it is central in the county and a lot of people go through here whether they are going up valley or down valley, but it also doesn't have a community, so much, for youth. I want to have a big part of the project to center around youth."
When asked if any current facilities would lend themselves to his project, Kottenstette said he doesn't believe so. The kitchens at Memorial Hall and Heritage Hall are not commercial and both facilities already have many events scheduled.
"We've examined a little bit of real estate within Hotchkiss," he said. It might be beneficial to put up a new building that would have a LEED Platinum certification for its environmental soundness. "We could put up a new, environmentally sustainable building that full picture would provide everything from sustainable energy to sustainable local economy and sustainable local food systems," Kottenstette said.
The idea for this came in part with the passage of the Cottage Food Act. "We recognized that especially in the communities of Delta County there's a tradition and heritage in preserving food," he said. "I started to feel a lot of people were preserving food in their own home kitchens ... and then sending those to neighbors and friends and the occasional market. But I feel the limitations of a home kitchen make the entire process to not meet a scale that is truly profitable. So providing a more certified infrastructure where they could streamline production and amp their scale would allow them to reach another level of production that would really turn a profit."
He would like to create a single, collaborative brand for a lot of people in the community. For example, one person would make a salsa, another jam. Both would be sent out collaboratively under one brand name to markets outside of the community. Within the community they could continue to be sold under their separate identities.
"Ideally, we want to serve both the local population, but also financially make returns by marketing and selling at luxury markets, like the surrounding mountain towns or on the Front Range," he said. "The local market is not necessarily large nor is it willing to pay high prices. So figuring out the logistics of how we can do both is a challenge."
Kottenstette has spoken with the Creative Coalition about a catalog for the community. The Creative Coalition was looking at arts, but Kottenstette thinks a gift catalog could advertise all the products being made in the county. "We hope to collaborate," he said.
He would like to model the youth center similar to Boys and Girls Clubs. The center would be open from the time school lets out until 7 or 8 p.m. "It provides an after school place for these kids to go hang out and then they do team building activities, games, exercise or entertaining things like a pool table or foosball table," he said. He imagines it to be "a cool teen place" with supervision.
He wants the building to be both a food hub with a commercial kitchen and a store and a community center with activities for teens. "A big goal of this project is to help with the agricultural abundance around here." He believes a food hub can create more of agricultural jobs than currently exist in the county.
He notes that in studying about the history of the former cannery in Delta, the county won 40 first place prizes for their fruit at the Chicago World Fair in 1893.
Currently to help understand what the community wants, Kottenstette and MacMillan have created a feasibility survey that can be found at local libraries and grocery stores. It is also available online at www.northforkheartsoul.com and www.surveymonkey.com/s/preservationcenter. They hope to have the surveys turned in by the end of January and then to complete the feasibility survey by June.