As any entrepreneur will tell you, a helping hand is always appreciated when starting out.  

Located in the warehouse of the Franklin County Community Development Corporation (FCCDC) is the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center, where they have been known to provide that helping hand to local food producers over the past 20 years.  

Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan visited the center in Greenfield and brings us the story. 

Learn how a passion for local farming led to a career at the FCCDC in a digital exclusive interview. 

Read the full transcription:

Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: As the sun tries to make its way up over 324 Well Street in Greenfield, within the confines of this old warehouse building, there’s already a crew hard at work.

This is the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center, an operation of the Franklin County Community Development Corporation. And while on the surface it may appear to be just a micro-assembly line, there is a much bigger purpose being addressed, in particular for local farmers and budding entrepreneurs looking to get their product out to market, but needing the production capabilities to do so.

Kate Minifie, FCCDC: Food entrepreneurs often come to us with an idea and they don’t really understand how they’re going to actually make it happen. So, the manufacturing end of things can be a little confusing for people. So, we like to invite them into the kitchen to see the space, to understand the equipment that we’re working with, and start to think about scalability of the product, right?

So, we’re not going to be making a product in a five gallon stockpot on our kitchen stovetop forever. Eventually, we’re going to want to scale up and make a few thousand units at a time, 10,000 units at a time.

So, we try to sort of demystify some of that, like, what is food manufacturing, what’s involved, and what does scalability look like for a small business?

Brian Sullivan: When we dropped in, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, as the order for the day was onions — lots of them.

But each day often presents a new product and thanks to some in-depth training and preparation, the team is always up to the task.

Kate Minifie: Monday, we might be making a hot fudge; Tuesday, we might be making a pickled onion product; and Wednesday, we might be making a pesto. It’s different every single day, and we support entrepreneurs all the way from Connecticut to northern Maine to New York City, and then we have some folks right here from Greenfield as well.

Brian Sullivan: So, who exactly is this well-oiled machine processing all of this food?

The FCCDC hires through a temp agency, and in the case of the kitchen here, through the local sheriff’s department. Upon release from incarceration, they’re brought on as temps looking to get a second chance.

And judging by the rate of retention, it seems to be working.

Kate Minifie: Well, we spend a lot of time cultivating a really good team. And so, at this point, we’ve had six crew members who’ve been with us for a couple of years. So, they’re invested, they’re passionate about the products that they’re making. They’re really excited to support the entrepreneurs that we come to know and love over years of working with them.

And then, we just have an awesome leadership team here. So, our Director of Operations, Liz Buxton, does a great job sort of cultivating that — that culture in which people feel comfortable coming forward with issues and feel comfortable presenting new solutions for doing something differently and doing something better.

Brian Sullivan: While the food processing center may get the lion’s share of the attention, because while they’ve been here for over 20 years, one detail that shouldn’t be overlooked about this operation is that this place has been a hub for entrepreneurs of all stripes.

The folks at Catalyst Kombucha are a perfect example. They’ve been using this space here for several years to manufacture their product.

Shannon Martineau, FCCDC: We are a lot of things. We are a small business incubator space. And so, what you see from the road when you drive in is our venture center and our food processing center.

So, we have businesses who get started with us by renting space and they are able to rent at a lower cost. And so, then they’re able to grow and eventually move out and get facilities of their own.

Brian Sullivan: Chances are, if there’s a local business in Franklin County and some of the surrounding areas that started small and needed financing along the way, they came through the FCCDC. The annual budget here is $2.7 million, and they’ve got their sights set on a target of $400,000 in donations this year in order to keep it up and running.

Shannon Martineau: We have a lot of balls in play here when it comes to finances. We have a few key financing streams, donations, you know, being one of them. We have income from our food processing center, income from our tenants, and then we rely on grants. And grants through the federal government and state government.

And so, all those pieces play together so that we can comfortably know, you know, that our operations are strong, and we’ll be here for many years to come.