ROME, NY — For anyone who baked sourdough bread during lockdown and thought, “I should sell this,” Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County has just the program to help make it happen.
The From Recipe to Market program, in partnership with the Rome campus of Mohawk Valley Community College, kicks off March 9 and teaches aspiring food entrepreneurs what they need to know to make their dream come true.
“The idea of the course is to give people a glimpse behind the curtains of the assistant in running a food business,” says Beth Irons, Oneida County Farmer’s Market Manager and Kitchen Manager. of the agricultural incubator at Cooperative Extension.
It’s an opportunity for those who make those delicious cupcakes that everyone says they should sell to see exactly what’s involved in the process, Irons says.
“People who get into these kinds of businesses do it out of passion,” she says. This program helps connect their passion to a plan.
The six-part workshop series, which begins March 9, meets every Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and covers a host of topics including various legal requirements, how to develop a business plan, commercial kitchens, food safety, and marketing work, or as Irons likes to say, “Once you put it on the shelf, how are you going to take it off the shelves.”
Every food product is different and the process for selling maple syrup, for example, will not necessarily be the same as selling baked goods. The program teaches participants where to go to learn the requirements of their particular product.
In addition to learning what it takes behind the scenes to launch a food product, attendees will also visit the commercial kitchens of MVCC’s Rome campus and get a taste of what it’s like to produce batches of commercial size of a product. Making a 60-gallon batch of salsa in a commercial kitchen is very different from making a small batch at home, Irons notes.
Participants will also practice presenting their product, which is important, Irons says. “They need to be able to talk about their product if they want to sell their product,” she says.
According to Irons, one of the most important elements of the program is the professional network of contacts to which it introduces participants. For those who take the next steps in the process, they will already have contacts in commercial kitchens and more to help them. “We’re already connecting them with the right people to take the next steps,” Irons notes.
While she didn’t name specific companies, Irons says past program participants have included producers of salsa, pizza sauce and specialty baked goods such as gluten-free or vegan products. This spring is the fourth time Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County has offered the program.
Some went on to bring a product to market, while others chose not to, Irons says. “It helps someone who thinks they want to start an agricultural business to decide if they want to take the next step.”
For Rebecca Spartano of Utica, the program was an enlightening and eye-opening experience. She took part in the Spring 2021 program to learn more about marketing her hummus recipe.
“It was a lot of information, and it was actually great,” she says. While Spartano was not completely in the dark about what was required, the wide variety of topics provided a wealth of information on government regulations, packaging, mass production, and more.
Before the program, she didn’t understand a lot of government regulations or how to go about finding a commercial kitchen to partner with.
“You have no idea what’s really involved, and you really should take this course,” Spartano tells aspiring food entrepreneurs. The information learned will help prevent mistakes and provide an ongoing support network.
In the end, Spartano decided not to go ahead with his idea. “It was not the right product and it was not the right time,” she notes. But she still has a binder full of information and a list of contacts if she has another idea in the future.
The program, which currently costs $75 per person, typically takes about 15 participants each time it’s offered.