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In the Specialty Food Business, Getting Started is No Piece of Cake

LAS CRUCES -- A hearty demand for specialty foods with a homemade taste makes some New Mexicans dream of turning grandma's famous cookie recipe into a profitable product.

Most of those dreams crumble, though, when would-be entrepreneurs learn they will need an expensive commercial kitchen and processing equipment, knowledge of licensing and health laws, and superb management and marketing skills.

To help, some communities are opening commercial kitchens as part of business incubator programs, said Martin Sancho, food technology specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.

"Mom-and-pop food processors just don't have the resources to buy a building and equipment," Sancho said. "Having a facility they can rent helps develop these new businesses." It also can create a local market for foods, tax revenue and jobs, he added.

To show community leaders and aspiring food processors how commercial kitchens can work, NMSU's Extension Service is sponsoring a workshop Oct. 3 in Taos.

Sessions will cover kitchen planning and design, operating a commercial kitchen, and marketing and designing labels for specialty foods.

During the workshop, participants will tour the Taos Food Center, which is part of a business incubator program.

"There are federal opportunities for starting incubator programs, but not everyone seems to be aware of them," Sancho said. Several northern New Mexico communities have shown interest in commercial kitchens. So far, Taos' is open and a community kitchen is in the works at Alcalde's Onate Center. Business incubators are planned in Farmington and Santa Fe.

Workshop registration is $180. Scholarships from the Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project are available for qualified participants.

Registrations are being accepted on a first-come, first-served basis and space is limited. For information, call Sancho's office at (505) 646-1283.