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Editorial: Opportunities grow with food

“Home grown” can be interpreted in many ways when it comes to our food supply.

Thankfully, for Franklin County, one sure version involves the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center.

As a recent Recorder story explained, the commercial kitchen in Greenfield has helped get a number of food-based enterprises — including Real Pickles, Hillside Organic Pizza, Little Duck Organics — off the ground. As the Franklin County Community Development Corp, the parent organization behind the center explains, “the Western Mass. Food Processing Center’s mission is to promote economic development through entrepreneurship, provide opportunities for sustaining local agriculture, and promote best practices for food producers.”

That may be a lot to digest. But there’s more.

The center has, for the last three years or so, been freezing local vegetables as a means of helping the area’s farmers extend their growing season. One of the outlets for these frozen foods is to get it into the hands of local schools for use in student meals. The center froze 65,000 pounds of vegetables, from cauliflower and peppers to tomatoes and carrots, in 2012, which were then sold to schools and others.

But that’s just the tip of the veggie iceberg.

CDC staffers realize there’s a tremendous amount of potential here. What’s holding them back, in part, has been the limit on freezer capacity and having the equipment necessary to individually “quick freeze” vegetables. But as our story indicates, steps are in place to rectify this situation, one that would allow this aspect of the center’s work to grow.

That’s good news for the center and the farms of the area. As John Waite, the CDC’s executive director, put it, “for now, enough farmers keep saying ‘if you pay, we’ll plant more.’” And having more stock of frozen vegetables also allows Nicolette Lustig, the center’s food business development specialist, to grow the marketing end of this enterprise.

Although this might not be Birds Eye or Green Giant, there seems to be considerable potential here for the CDC’s Food Processing Center to carve out a regional niche, one that could not only provide local farmers with a larger market for the produce, but also add some jobs.

We may not be there yet, but there’s no reason not to think on a larger scale, especially when it comes to real home-grown businesses.

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