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New food processing business incubator complete, ready for tenants

The 8,000 square foot facility, named “FARM” (Food, Agriculture, Research, Manufacturing Center), is located on the campus of Muskegon Community College.

On Friday, Greater Muskegon Economic Development (GMED) and the West Michigan Food Processing Association announced that construction of a new food processing business incubator is complete and ready for tenants. 

The 8,000 square foot facility, named “FARM” (Food, Agriculture, Research, Manufacturing Center), is located on the campus of Muskegon Community College and provides flexible manufacturing space for commercial grade fruit and vegetable processing.

FARM was designed specifically for Stage 2 food processing businesses that are ready to scale beyond a home kitchen or shared kitchen incubator, but not ready to operate in their own food production facility. 

The facility complies with all U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration requirements, and includes features such as refrigeration/freezers, energy efficient waste and water handling, and loading docks. 

Tenants are expected to furnish their own processing equipment, and to eventually grow and move into their own facility. FARM is also suitable for large food processors that need space for pilot/R&D programs or overflow production, as well as food technology companies interested in testing new processing equipment.

“People may be surprised to learn there are more than 6,000 farmers and 200 food processors in the West Michigan region, and several are top 10 fruit/vegetable producers in the nation,” said Marty Gerencer, Executive Director of the West Michigan Food Processing Association. “Our experience and research have helped us identify the benefits of incorporating the food processing sector into our region’s economic development strategy.” 

FARM also has the potential to introduce new Industry 4.0 practices and technologies to the area’s food sector, and future educational programs will introduce food processing as a STEM-related, livable wage career to college and high school students. 

“GMED was happy to help secure funding for FARM, manage construction, oversee start-up and put programming in place,” commented GMED President/CEO Jim Edmonson. “FARM affords us the ability to increase the number of food related businesses and grow our STEM-skilled workforce.” Tenants will also have access to Michigan State University Product Center resources and the expertise of FARM staff.

FARM’s first tenant, fermented tea producer Lively Up Kombucha, will start production at FARM this spring. Kombucha founder Zack Smith said FARM is exactly what his company needs to grow to the next level. “As soon as I walked into FARM, I knew it was our next home. 

This facility and the support we’ll receive here will allow us to expand beyond our current Michigan distribution network. I don’t know if the next phase in our business would be possible if we had to do it all on our own. 

Moving into FARM gives us a lot of confidence, not only because of what the building offers in terms of our production capacity, but because of the expertise of the people we’ll be able to interact with on a regular basis.”

In addition, FARM is equipped to accommodate the MSU Mobile Food Processing Lab, which offers hands-on experiences to community college students throughout Michigan. Educational programs for high school and Muskegon Community College students are also in development and are expected to begin this fall.

FARM was made possible by a $2 million State of Michigan/MEDC infrastructure grant. Other partners include the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, Muskegon Community College and Michigan State University. 

Food entrepreneurs interested in learning more about FARM should contact Marty Gerencer at 231-638-2981 or email marty.gerencer@gmail.com

Detailed information and a virtual tour of FARM is also available at http://www.westmichfoodprocessingassn.com/farm.

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