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UK College of Agriculture launches Food Systems Innovation Center
The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, with a grant from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, has created the Food Systems Innovation Center to help small-scale producers who want to sell value-added products to a mass consumer base.
The center, building on the educational programs and support the college has always provided to Kentucky's farmers and entrepreneurs, offers a blending of the many capabilities that exist in the college in terms of marketing and technical product development services and support.
"We have felt a need within our many faculty groups to produce a suite of products that will help the small company," said Nancy Cox, associate dean of research in the college. "This dovetailed with the Kentucky Proud efforts and other efforts of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and our other partners."
The number of small-scale producers who have considered producing and selling value-added products has grown as the local food movement has picked up speed and Kentucky Proud products have become a recognizable brand across the state. But making small batches of a family recipe to sell at the local farmers market is very different from producing large batches for a mass consumer base said Tim Woods, UK agricultural economics professor and one of the center's primary investigators.
"There's a lot that goes into commercializing any food product," he said. "There are a lot of quality assurance issues that folks need to attend to. Either because they're new or because they're small, they may have limited access to some of the kinds of resources, such as product testing, shelf life studies, and the various quality assurance kinds of tests that a larger-scale food processor would normally run in their own labs."
The Food Systems Innovation Center offers validation studies on processed, vacuum-sealed and ready-to-eat items to assess their safety, accurate nutritional analyses and labeling information, taste tests using trained sensory panelists and technical support to analyze shelf life.
UK agricultural economists, in collaboration with the new center, conduct consumer studies as well as demand, economic impact and feasibility studies. And the center offers Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points and food security/defense training.
Angela Anandappa, the center's coordinator, believes entrepreneurs would be wise to take advantage of all the center has to offer them. As an entrepreneur with several start-up companies under her belt, she said plunging into a new enterprise without doing some prep work can sometimes pay off, but it is very risky.
Working out technical and marketing problems through the center first "absolutely will save them (the entrepreneurs) a lot of money in the long run," she said.
Joining Woods and Anandappa in the center are Wuyang Hu, associate professor in agricultural economics and Melissa Newman and Gregg Rentfrow, associate professor and assistant extension professor, respectively, in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.
While Kentucky Agricultural Development Board funds are fueling the project's start-up, the center's staff recognizes that if it is to be sustainable as a long-term program, they have to take on some larger projects. Already they have committed to helping researchers at Kentucky State University develop pawpaw and sorghum products; the Kentucky Milk Commission has set up a project, and the Grape and Wine Council is in the process of setting up one.
"We recognize that it will take some time for us to build to the level of capacity that we need to have to be able to service all the folks who really need the help," Woods said. "We're not exclusively limiting it to just the really tiny, tiny operations, but those are the folks that are probably going to need the most help. And in terms of what the mission is behind the Agricultural Development Board funds, that was a big part of their focus. And it's part of the land-grant mission, too. We see all those things fitting in really well."
For more information on the UK Food Systems Innovation Center, contact Anandappa at 859-257-7272, ext. 286 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the center's website http://www.kyfsic.org.
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