“Is there a way that collectively we can create an opportunity for all of us to thrive? Can we:
• Strengthen our community’s food security, health, and quality of life?
• Pool our collective talents, knowledge, and experience to develop a significant and sustainable food presence in the Gorge?
• Generate year-round economic stability for our independent endeavors?”
From these questions emerged Community Fresh, a Gorge-to-Table Culinary Center and collective of product and service providers instrumental in creating a sustainable and economically feasible presence that addresses the immediate needs and concerns of Skamania County community members from residents to business owners to local, county, and state agencies.
This one-stop wellness facility could offer essential skills training, apprentice and employment opportunities, a qualified labor force, affordable and fresh food from local providers, affordable and accessible health management, a food and nutrition education program, and a community kitchen for the professional artisan.
• People for People / WorkSource
• Washington Gorge Action Programs
• Stevenson-Carson School District
• Port of Skamania County
• Skamania County Economic Development Council
• Skamania Lodge
• ROOTS Farmacy
• Washington State University – Rural Communities Design Initiative Program (RCDI)
PLEDGED SUPPORTING PARTNERS
• Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance
• Gorge Grown Food Network
PLANTING THE SEED
In December, 2017, the Executive Directors of the Port of Skamania and Skamania County Economic Development Council (Pat Albaugh and Kari Fagerness, respectively) requested a meeting with Annie McHale, owner of ROOTS Farmacy LLC. Their interest was to gauge whether she would consider developing a community kitchen in the Tichenor Building located on Stevenson’s waterfront, a property owned by the Port.
Annie educated herself on the building’s current and incoming tenants and recognized their potential collaboration to offer, in combination with a community kitchen, a one-stop wellness center for the benefit of all of Skamania County. Inspired by the possibilities, Annie drafted the first Conceptual Model, linking these existing businesses and services in a way that, together, positioned them and the entire population of Skamania County as a health-centric community, resolving the decades’ old revolving-door issues within the Food, Beverage, and Hospitality industries. The model had the capacity to address food and health security / accessibility / affordability, skills training, an apprenticeship program, successful employment, livable and increased wages, and micro business start-ups. The wide range of health support thru food and nutrition education could significantly benefit this rural community currently limited in this area of need specifically.
In January, 2018, as encouraged by Pat Albaugh and Kari Fagerness, Annie conducted on-site visits of 3 community-based kitchens in the state of Washington: Pybus Public Market (Wenatchee), Grounds for Opportunity (Kelso), and Blue Mountain Station (Dayton). Her learnings and observations are included in this document. The discoveries made deepened her commitment to and belief in her concept as a viable means to not only address intergenerational poverty, but to actually contribute to its reduction in a practical, applicable, and sustainable way.
TAKING ROOT: STEERING COMMITTEE FORMED
By March, 2018, Annie had easily garnered enthusiastic support and a firm commitment to partner from Work Source (People for People), Washington Gorge Action Programs, Stevenson-Carson School District, Port of Skamania, Skamania County Economic Development Council, Skamania Lodge, Skamania Acupuncture, and Stevenson Farmers’ Market. In addition, both Gorge Grown Network and Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance committed to sharing Gorge-specific data and other relevant support as identified and needed to advance this project.
Annie invited members of each partner organization/entity to meet and discuss a collaborative agenda to further the project in an organized and committed manner. On August 7, 2018, the Steering Committee held its first meeting. In attendance were:
- Karen Douglass, Superintendent, Stevenson-Carson School District
- Cindy Maib-Robinson, Director of Training, People for People / WorkSource
- Leslie Naramore, Executive Director, Washington Gorge Action Programs
- Wanda Scharfe, Port of Skamania and Skamania County Economic Development Council
- Janet Smith, Human Resource Director, Skamania Lodge
- Heather Heathman, At-Large Community Representative (Professional Chef)
On September 11, 2018, the Steering Committee participated in a half-day workshop during which they created a name, tagline, and mission statement:
Community Fresh: A Gorge-to-Table Culinary Center
Cultivating community partnerships by honoring our local economy
The Steering Committee meets the second Wednesday of every month from 1:30p to 3:30p in the Tichenor Building.
In May, 2019, the Steering Committee hosted a community presentation to unveil Community Fresh to specific stakeholders (community leaders and food/beverage/hospitality industry). The focus was to solicit interest and feedback. Each member presented, informing the audience how Community Fresh would benefit and impact its particular population. Surveys were given to the audience, and the feedback indicated overwhelming support (96% in favor and 89% interested in supporting in some capacity).
Also in attendance were 2 faculty members and 7 students from Washington State University’s Rural Community Design Initiative program. One faculty member presented the program’s purpose and announced its partnership with Community Fresh. RCDI is excited to lead a feasibility study and views it an opportunity to establish a base concept which can be replicated in rural, food-desert communities across the state. RCDI expects to determine the feasibility of both concept and design following community input.
- Washington Gorge Action Programs, Rock Creek Drive, Stevenson, WA
- Tichenor Building, Columbia Gorge Riverfront, SW Cascade Avenue, Stevenson, WA
- Exhibit Hall, Skamania County Fairgrounds, Rock Creek Drive, Stevenson, WA
These sites were identified as a potential “home” for Community Fresh based on location, square footage, and proximity to neighboring services in alignment with the vision. Each is dependent upon availability at the time Community Fresh is prepared to secure a space.
- ~2,500 square feet
…Commercial Kitchen + Storage
…Restrooms (2) (if not currently existing)
…Outdoor Garden Space (in addition)
- Ease of Ingress / Egress
- Ample Parking
- Visual / Destination Location (prominent route)
Preliminary considerations for use of space are:
- Commercial kitchen with ample storage and refrigeration / freezer space*
- Classroom / meeting room
- Retail production, vending, and storage
- Farmers’ market vending and storage
- Community events / gatherings
- Customer / guest seating
*A commercial kitchen fitted for professional use will require approximately 1,000 square feet to attract caterers, retail production, and educational / wellness classes.
It is recommended that a board of directors is organized and 501(c)3 designation obtained. Non-profit designation is viewed as a viable option for the following reasons:
- Allows a continuum of residents to serve in decision-making roles for this community-based center;
- Increases access and opportunity for grant application and funding;
- Relative ease of application and management due to the experience of several Steering Committee members;
- Tax protection.
NOTE: A narrative describing the primary elements is provided below to bring attention to potential contributions.
- Employment Skills Training Center
- People for People / WorkSource
- Culinary Skill Development
- Service Industry Internship Program
- Beverage Production
- Restaurant / Hotel
- Community Commercial Kitchen
- Culinary Training / Job Preparedness
- People for People / WorkSource
- Beverage Production
- Restaurant / Hotel
- Stevenson-Carson School District
- Youth Bakery
- Restaurant / Hotel
- Washington Gorge Action Programs
- Beverage Production
- Restaurant / Hotel
- Culinary Artisans, Independent
- Client & Retail Production
- Cooking Classes
- Food & Nutrition Education Classes
- Food & Nutrition Education Program
- Health Practitioners
- Washington Gorge Action Programs
- Food Bank Clients
- Shelter Residents
- Farmers Market
- Year-round, Indoor/Outdoor (seasonal)
- Hydroponic Growing System
- 4-Season Production
- Local Economy Stimulant
- People for People / WorkSource
PRIMARY ELEMENTS NARRATIVE
Employment Skills Training Center
People for People / WorkSource will offer employment skills and other training to its clients. The desire is to develop a culinary training program as well as an apprenticeship program. Restaurants, beverage production facilities, and other crafters (wood working, coffee roasting, etc) could provide hands-on job training to People for People / WorkSource clients, who will continue to receive unemployment benefits as an incentive to learn a new and employable skill set. Those who successfully complete the program will have a viable, verifiable, and recent reference for their resume’. In turn, the apprentice sites receive a vetted labor force, increased production with little to no impact on operating costs, an opportunity to observe apprentices’ hard and soft skill development for future hire if needed.
Community Commercial Kitchen
As a central focus of this space, a community kitchen would serve multiple purposes from culinary training to food production to nutrition education to entertainment. The number of ways in which it could generate revenue, increase income earning potential for food growers and small business owners, reduce unemployment, influence industry standards, positively impact the health and quality of life for residents, and attract tourism are endless.
- In collaboration with local service industry employers, People for People / WorkSource could develop Culinary Training and Job Preparedness courses in restaurant, hotel, catering, beverage production, and soft skills that effectively meet employers’ needs. Persons successfully completing this training would become competitive candidates for open positions, and employers could trust that the only additional training necessary would be their own internal policies and procedures.
- Stevenson-Carson School District has an interest in an at-risk and/or general student population youth culinary program. Students could learn restaurant, hotel, catering, and soft skills to prepare them for income potential either before or upon graduation. Again, employers could assist in the development of this curriculum to ensure its effectiveness, and successful students would be better prepared and more confident to compete as qualified candidates.
- There is a shortage of licensed commercial kitchen facilities available to independent food artisans in Skamania County. With this space, these licensed and insured businesses could process and package food for private and retail sale, and offer a variety of services to the general public such as cooking classes, food and nutrition education, and demonstrations featuring retail product and/or fresh farm product.
- Health practitioners have expressed interest in augmenting their client services by referring them to the food and nutrition education program as an added, affordable, and convenient tool for health and quality of life improvement. Providers could also utilize the kitchen to provide their own food education programs.
- Dedicated year-round, indoor vendor booths would provide a permanent outlet for a farmers market.
- Community Fresh could also provide two new revenue sources for local growers: direct-sell to kitchen users and WGAP’s Food Bank in Stevenson. Additionally, the installation of an indoor hydroponic food system with minimal space requirements will provide year-round fresh produce.
Local Economy Stimulant
- Community Fresh has the potential to create up to 4 PTE positions. A Site Manager’s responsibilities would include creating and maintaining the operating schedule, as well as vetting and overseeing potential users. Seasonal cashiers would provide consistent hours of operation and a welcome support mechanism for food growers and retailers who haven’t the time or labor to tend a booth or retail space. User fees would pay the wages of these employees.
- The local community could benefit in countless ways: employable skills training, year-round access to healthy food, affordable wellness programs for low-income and/or food insecure folks, combined services in one facility which offers an affordable and supportive venue for small business start-ups.
- The chosen site’s owner or manager could benefit from increased occupancy, long-term revenue, diversified community relations, and congruent use of space to attract local, multi-generational, and visiting users. It could also serve as a state-wide or national model for communities with similar development interests.
- The Economic Development Council could benefit from favorable public relations for economic development and advancement, increased new business to the area, and a potential increase in small-business start-ups among local residents. It could also chart measurable data for future funding and/or growth opportunities.
- Tourists could benefit year-round from this multi-purpose facility: farmers market, cooking classes and demonstrations, retail food space, food and beverage tastings, event space, live music performances, ample parking, and stunning views from any of the potential sites.
The Steering Committee’s function is to navigate the process of securing and managing a feasibility study. With study in hand, Community Fresh will be better positioned to secure funding for its continued development. The Rural Community Design Initiative (RCDI), a program of Washington State University, was identified and secured as the partner to provide this study and design plan. Based on the direction of academic professionals and program students, RCDI was unanimously selected as the best fit for Community Fresh’s “teach and learn” platform.
The purpose of the study is to design a community space that will contribute to the distinct and unique identity of Skamania County, creating a destination where families, businesses, and visitors want to be while supporting the local economy. The Tichenor Building, owned and managed by the Port of Skamania County, was selected as the design site for the feasibility study.
The WSU RCDI proposal, dated March 3, 2021, describes in detail the scope and phases of the work to be completed within a specified timeline.
FEASIBILITY STUDY GRANTS
In 2019, two grants were awarded to Community Fresh for the purpose of funding the feasibility study. The first, from the Richard Parker Foundation in the amount of $2,500, was received in June. The second, from the Community Foundation of Southwest Washington in the amount of $15,800, was awarded in 2019 for the 2020 grant cycle. Washington Gorge Action Programs is the fiscal sponsor of Community Fresh and is managing these funds. The Richard Parker Foundation funds were released to WSU as payment for its initial exploratory site visit in June, 2019.
AND THEN … COVID!
In March, 2020, the world halted. Every partner of Community Fresh had to reprioritize its focus, putting the project on hold. In October, communication with WSU resumed and a grant extension from Community Foundation of Southwest Washington was approved in November. The Foundation’s Program Officer, Esra Khalil, affirmed our purpose in her response:
“I think the revibrating economic impact of the pandemic has only illuminated the importance of projects like Community Fresh.”
On March 29, 2021, the Steering Committee and WSU RCDI will host a Community Workshop via ZOOM to garner input. Annie McHale has been meeting with RCDI monthly, also via ZOOM, to prepare concept drawings to present to the community. Annie invited community stakeholders to meet independently with RCDI during its site visit. Scheduled are:
- Bob Hamlin, County Commissioner
- Scott Anderson / Leana Kinley, Mayor and City Administrator
- Esra Khalil, Program Officer, Community Foundation of SW WA
- Ken Daugherty / Brooke Henderson, General Manager and Director of Human Resources, Skamania Lodge
- Angie Waiss / Kelly McKee, Directors, Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Association
- Pat Albaugh, Executive Director, Skamania County Port will attend the Community Workshop
Invitations will be shared with community stakeholders, business owners, and residents via social media and email. A Facebook page was created and information is shared daily to it and the Stevenson Community page. Favorable response and support are growing exponentially. Re-commitment from the community partners was also sought; everyone remains enthusiastically committed. The Stevenson Farmers Market Board of Directors asked for information ahead of its annual board meeting for consideration to partner and opted to decline. The board was informed that another market would likely evolve to fill this essential need.
The goal is to create a program that will be self-sustaining from user and participant fees within 3 years of operation. Identifying other resources to support the program in its initial stage should be an ongoing effort of Community Fresh’s governing body. Six potential funding opportunities have been identified thus far, each with unique data and time requirements.
This process requires a formal application. In essence, the Governor of the State of Washington has the means to delegate monies from his/her discretionary budget annually to any agency, organization, or group that submits an “Ask.” Initial research indicates that Community Fresh could be a contender upon formal organization.
Timeframe: Washington State’s Legislative Session begins the first full week of January and continues for 60 days.
1) Grant: Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) (www.ams.usda.gov/services/grants/lfpp)
- Grant Types and Size: a) Planning – up to $100,000; 25% match; b) Implementation – $100,000 to $500,000; 25% match
a) Planning Grants are used in the planning stages of establishing or expanding a local and regional food business enterprise. Activities can include but are not limited to market research, feasibility studies, and business planning.
b) Implementation Grants are used to establish a new local and regional food business enterprise, or to improve or expand an existing local or regional food business enterprise. Activities can include but are not limited to training and technical assistance for the business enterprise and/or for producers working with the business enterprise; outreach and marketing to buyers and consumers; and non-construction infrastructure improvements to business enterprise facilities or information technology systems.
2) Grant: Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG)
- Grant Size: $10,000 to $500,000; no cost-sharing requirement
- Criteria: RBDG funds must be directed for projects benefiting rural areas or towns outside the urbanized periphery of any city with a population of 50,000 or more. Funds can be used for community economic development. Smaller requests are given higher priority. Grant applications are evaluated based on: evidence showing job creation to occur with local businesses, economic need in the area to be served, consistency with local economic development priorities, and experience of the grantee with similar efforts.
Washington State Contact: Kirk Pearson, State Director / 1835 Blacklake Boulevard SW, Suite B / Olympia, WA 98512-5715 / (360) 704-7740
Community Foundation for Southwest Washington (www.cfsww.org/nonprofits/grant-programs-2/)
- Grant: Discretionary Grant Program – Operating Support
- Grant Size: up to $25,000
Gorge Community Foundation (www.gorgecf.org/grants/joan-burchell-fund/)
- Grant: Joan Burchill Fund
- Grant Size: Varies; averages between $1,500 and $4,000
- Criteria: In the selection of grant recipients, priority is given to proposals with some combination of the following characteristics: a) meet a clearly demonstrated need; b) are innovative and creative; c) provide the maximum impact for the dollars expended; and d) encourage collaboration.
United Way of Columbia Gorge (www.unitedwaycolumbiagorge.org/apply-funding)
- Grant: Community Giving
- Grant Size: Unknown
- Criteria: Any 501(c)3 human service agency or program that has been serving basic human needs in the Columbia Gorge for a minimum of two years by the time of the application deadline is welcome to apply for funding.
January thru May, 2021
- Prepare for March Community Workshop
- Identify and Vet Candidates for Board of Directors
- Finalize Feasibility Study
June thru September, 2021
- Dissolve Steering Committee, Form Board of Directors
- Identify Marketing and Capital Campaign Strategies
- Submit 501(c)3 Application
October thru December, 2021
- Identify Site
- Secure Next Round of Funding