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Posts Tagged ‘kitchen incubators’

One of my intentions for 2011 is to shine light on our many 30 Mile Meal partners. Meet Leslie Schaller, known to hundreds of food entrepreneurs in the Athens region as well as local food activists across the country.

Leslie in L.A.

Some background on this amazing dynamo. First, don’t be fooled by her diminutive size. This woman thinks BIG when it comes to sustainable economic development. She’s often on the go, responding to increasing demands for her expertise. Cleveland, Madison, Youngstown, D.C., Memphis, rural Iowa, Asheville – she could be in any of these places right now, assisting organizations and communities wanting to grow their food businesses and local economies.

For the last nineteen years Leslie has worked at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) where she is the Director of Programming, overseeing and delivering training and technical assistance for entrepreneurs. She played a lead role in the founding of ACEnet’s Food Ventures program, leading to the development of their 12,000 square foot kitchen incubator facility.

Launched in 1996, the shared-use kitchen incubator includes a licensed commercial kitchen, thermal processing, packaging, food service and warehouse space for over 240 food processors and area farmers. The program has pioneered non-traditional strategies to develop infrastructure, market programs and distribution channels for family farmers and local food processors in southeast Ohio, while also responding to the growing demand from rural consumers for fresh, local foods.

When she isn’t on the road consulting, she’s securing funds to create regional brands, launching marketing strategies, and mapping out business plans and financial management systems within the various sectors of our region’s local foods economy.

She is also a leader in the larger local foods realm, serving as Board Treasurer for the national Farmers Market Coalition, and as a member of the Ohio Food Policy Advisory Board, the Ohio Market Connections Task Force and the Athens Food Policy Council and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

Leslie at Casa's 25th birthday party

Her food roots go back to the early ’80s when she operated an organic market garden and raised livestock, selling at the Athens Farmers Market and to area restaurants. Since 1985 she has served as the Business Director of the Worker-Owned Restaurant Corporation that operates Casa Nueva, Casa Cantina and Casa Manufacturing in Athens, Ohio. The cooperative currently employs 60-70 worker-owners and associates and was projected to have annual sales of $2.5 million in 2010.

In 1992, she founded a food security organization, Community Food Initiatives, which now engages in a number of food access and security projects in our region, including food and produce donations from Athens Farmers Market vendors for area pantries and food banks.

A few weeks ago Leslie and I met with Jane Black, a food writer (formerly with the Washington Post and whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, Food & Wine, and other publications), and her husband, Brent Cunningham, also a journalist. Last fall they moved from Brooklyn to Huntington, WV – the town that Jamie Oliver made famous with his Food Revolution reality TV show.  Jane and Brent wondered what would happen once Oliver’s cameras and lights disappeared. Black notes in her blog, “I am off to (WV) to write a book about one town’s effort to change its food culture and whether the “food revolution” can cross geographic, cultural and class boundaries.”

When Leslie and I met them, they were on a regional tour of local foods hotspots, research for their book. After a stop at the Athens Farmers Market, we headed to Casa Nueva for lunch and some talk about the efforts underway to grow and promote our local foods economy. By the time Jane finished her homemade ginger ice cream (made with Snowville’s heavy cream), it was clear that she and Brett would be back and that their connection with Leslie would yield plenty of story leads for the future.

Earlier this week Jane interviewed Leslie for her Smart Food radio show on Edible Radio. You can listen to the interview here.

 

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ACEnet's shared kitchen facility

This Sunday’s (October 10, 2010) New York Times Magazine is themed ‘Eating Together’ with a broad look at how food is shaping our culture and choices. 30 Mile Meal partner ACEnet is mentioned in ‘Shared Tastes’, an article by Rob Walker on the rise of kitchen incubators. Here’s a link.

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