MNfusion: Lakewinds, The Good Acre Launch ‘Maker To Market’ For 4 Local Food Producers

For many diners farm-to-table is no longer a trend, it is pattern.

While the social movement, which urges using locally sourced food at restaurants, has long been the norm for some, it really got its push in the 2000s. And, over the last 10 years, has grown exponentially in popularity.

Now, there is more of a desire to know where our food comes from.

But despite consumer demand, in the world of mass production it can be difficult for food makers to provide their natural products.

Faced with the problem of connecting food makers to retailers, and each other, Lakewinds Food Co-op stepped in. Together with The Good Acre, Lakewinds Food Co-op launched the “Maker to Market” incubator program in 2017.

The program aims to connect food makers, farmers and food retailers in an effort to create strong relationships and economic stability.

“We wanted…to be able to connect local makers with our network of local growers and help kick start local food entrepreneurs who are striving to source local,” Rhys Williams, executive director of The Good Acre, said.

It also is a way to bring more natural food options to consumers.

“The more that local makers are connected to networks of growers, the more equitable, vibrant and resilient our local food system will be,” Dale Woodbeck, general manager of Lakewinds, said.

Open to four independent food makers, Maker to Market helps the selected makers turn their concept into a market-ready product by offering the support of the farmer and location of the retailer.

If selected, makers would receive six-month access to The Good Acre’s commercial kitchen, crop planning sessions, brand consultations, a six-month shelf run at all three Lakewinds locations, product storage and retail distribution at The Good Acre and a membership to the Midwest Pantry.

Applications were accepted from Jan. 9 through Jan. 30.

Wooddbeck said applicants were evaluated on taste, uniqueness of product, trends in their category, adherence to Lakewinds’ product standards and how well their product could be sourced from The Good Acre.

In mid-February, four winners were chosen: Caldo Foods, GYST Fermentation Bar, Little Red Hen Foods, and Senoras de Salsa.

Now, these four makers begin the process of building a better product, a bigger business and a broader connection to Twin Cities diners.

“The end goal is success for each of the producers,” Woodbeck said. “Learning the various aspects of being successful food entrepreneurs at every level of business so they can sustain and grow, expanding to other retailers and markets.”

Hear more about the program, and how it is helping these makers by reading interviews with Caldo Foods, GYST Fermentation Bar, Little Red Hen Foods and Senoras de Salsa below.

So, let’s start with an easy one. How did you find out about this program?

Mona Caldo (Caldo Foods): We found out about the program through the Midwest Pantry. They have been a good resource for us.

Ky + Mel Guse (GYST Fermentation Bar): From Emily at The Good Acre, as well as Jill and Amy from Lakewinds at a “Women Who Really Cook Meeting” at GYST!

Karen Schweigert (Little Red Hen Foods): I heard out about the program from Emily, the Director of Programs at The Good Acre. I really admire the mission and services provided by The Good Acre and had hoped to produce in their kitchen prior to the program.

Danielle Wojdyla (Senoras de Salsa): I heard about this from the “Women Who Really Cook” networking group. Jill from Lakewinds had introduced the program and encouraged people to apply

After learning about the program, why was it something you wanted to participate in?

Caldo: The program signified an exceptional opportunity for us to launch our products that we have worked so hard to bring about.

Guse: Since one of our missions is to support small growers and farmers, it made perfect sense for us to be able to buy produce from the farmers and growers at The Good Acre. This would [also] allow us to scale up the production of our pickles and kombucha to be able to reach a larger audience by selling at Lakewinds Co-op locations. We see the increased production and business of GYST traditional pickles as a major contribution to the health and well-being of people in our community, as well as the local food system and economy.

Schweigert: The Maker to Market program is an incredible jump-start for a young company providing distribution, product and sales feedback, as well as commercial kitchen access.

Wojdyla: First, deep down I am a complete food nerd at heart. More specifically, I am looking forward to participating in this program because of my relationship with some awesome Hispanic women. I met them at a local nonprofit, got to know them and the day-to-day challenges they face and wanted to create a business to help empower them. Plus, our salsa is the bomb dot com, so I would feel guilty not sharing it with the greater MSP community.

What product(s) will the Maker to Market program help you develop?

Caldo: We have developed several lines that deliver different flavors and savors. The products include Caldo Traditional and Smoked Harissa’s, a grilled vegetable dip that we call “Peppertini,” and the delicious healthy carrot dip “Carota.”

Guse: We will be producing our famous traditional, lacto-fermented, pickles: daikon radish with chili, golden beet with ginger and orange, and kohlrabi with dill, garlic and black pepper to begin.

Schweigert: The product from Little Red Hen Foods is a cauliflower-crust frozen pizza. Our pizzas are both gluten and grain free, and we use simple, familiar ingredients.

Wojdyla: The products we are developing are fresh, refrigerated authentic Mexican salsas. They are different from the usual salsa in the store because they really rely on the ingredients – dried peppers, garlic, lime juice and tomatillos for their flavor. The salsas are also smooth rather than chunky, making them great for dipping chips but even better to add on tacos or scrambled eggs.

Wow! Those are all so unique and different. I’m sure consumers are excited to have them more readily available. So, as an artisan yourself, why do you think this program important?

Caldo: This program hits very closely to our mission by bringing the recipes and products we feel so passionately about to our local community, using local sourcing.

Guse: This program is so important for the resources it provides. Providing the production and storage space, not to mention the marketing and outreach opportunities, is crucial to growing our wholesale program in order to reach a wider audience.

Schweigert: The program offers an incredible opportunity for us to get feedback and support on our product so we can adjust to better meet consumer and retailer desires. Plus, as I continue to put my own personal income into the business, I am so relieved to have a lower level of risk and a known sales channel.

Wojdyla: The support of rent in a commercial kitchen is great, but beyond that the extra attention to marketing, pricing, social media and distribution gives a small producer room to breathe in the first few months and continue to work on proving a successful business while not getting lost in all the details of a new operation.

It’s wonderful to hear this program has such meaning to everyone involved. That being said, what do you hope it will help you accomplish for your business?

Caldo: We hope that this program will be our springboard for launching our brand and bringing our products to people in our community, our regional market and nationally.

Guse: We hope this program helps us launch a new wholesale division for our traditional pickle program. It is our goal to help people better understand the different uses for fermented vegetables – the deliciousness, the health benefits and, of course, how to increase support for small and sustainable farmers.

Schweigert: I am hoping that through the Maker to Market program we are able to establish and stabilize our retail supply chain to set ourselves up for future growth and expansion.

Wojdyla: I hope the Maker to Market program allows us the chance to get to know our consumers, customers, and, hopefully, ourselves better. By better understanding our products, what needs they are fulfilling and how to improve them, we can set ourselves up for better growth and success.

Those are all really wonderful goals! Finally, tell me, what do you hope this program will do for the Minnesota food scene?

Caldo: Our moto is “spice up your kitchen!”, and I would say it’s time to “spice up Minnesota!”

Guse: It is our hope that this program creates a larger and more diverse pool of artisanal food producers and entrepreneurs coming out of Minnesota, which, inevitably, will contribute to an even healthier local food economy and community.

Schweigert: I hope that the Maker to Market program generates more excitement and focus on the exciting offerings of other local food producers. There were thirty applicants to the program and I hope that each applicant gets more attention and resources based on the momentum of this program. I love that Lakewinds is investing in local food producers to help build the strength of Minnesota food entrepreneurs.  We have the right programs and people here to be a national force in emerging food trends.

Wojdyla: I think it speaks volumes for our food scene to be so “mature” that it is able to foster incubators like Maker to Market. In the last 10-15 years, I’ve noticed the increased availability and diversity of Minnesota food products. We’ve gone from making mostly just wild rice and cheese to now kimchi, chocolate and salsa!

More from Katie Fraser
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