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Muskegon food processing incubator provides ‘stepping stone’ for small businesses

MUSKEGON, MI – A new food processing incubator space aims to be an economic driver for small businesses and local farmers in the Muskegon region.

The Food, Agriculture, Research, Manufacturing Center (FARM) was built on Muskegon Community College’s campus to provide space for food entrepreneurs creating products from fruits and vegetables.

Marty Gerencer, executive director for the West Michigan Food Processing Association, said FARM is targeting small businesses that have been operating for a couple of years and are looking to grow beyond a home kitchen.

“It’s a good stepping stone,” Gerencer said.

Short-term rentals are also available for larger companies looking to test new products or use additional space temporarily.

Related: Food processing incubator to be built at Muskegon Community College

The FARM facility is operated by the West Michigan Food Processing Association with support from Greater Muskegon Economic Development, Muskegon Community College and Michigan State University.

A $2 million grant from the state of Michigan assisted the construction of the 8,000-square-foot building, 1945 Stebbins Road. The facility has three bays, each equipped with an office, a supply area to clean produce, processing space and walk-in coolers and freezers.

“It’s designed to be very flexible,” said Gerencer.

Muskegon-based Lively Up Kombucha is the first tenant of the FARM incubator. Owner Zack Smith started selling fermented tea at the Muskegon Farmers Market four years ago, and his business now distributes to 80 stores around Michigan.

“This is going to help incubate us through our middle ground period,” Smith said. “We’re bigger than what we can handle in our space but we’re not ready to take on our own space.”

Smith currently makes his product out of a kitchen in Roosevelt Park and partners with local farms. He plans to be fully operational at the FARM space by June.

“Zack is exactly the type of entrepreneur we wanted to attract. He’s interested in healthy, he’s interested in sustainable and he’s interested in growing his business,” Gerencer said.

Smith hopes the incubator facilitates the growth of his company and eventually paves the way for Lively Up Kombucha to open a retail tap room.

Related: Muskegon’s first kombucha brewery is the brainchild of two 22-year-olds

With over 5,000 farms in West Michigan, Greater Muskegon Economic Development considers food processing and agribusiness a key industry to the region. Statewide, the agriculture and food processing industry accounts for over $100 billion in economic activity, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Gerencer says helping Muskegon County food businesses expand has a “multiplier effect” on local farms.

The Stage 2 food processing business accelerator is the only one of its kind in West Michigan, joining one at Michigan State University’s Okemos campus and one in Traverse City. Gerencer calls it a corridor along the West Michigan shoreline that “cuts through fruit and vegetable land.”

Related: Efforts to turn Muskegon into food processing hub continue

FARM is also in the beginning stages of developing educational programs for high school and MCC students to learn more about the industry. It is equipped to welcome the MSU Mobile Food Processing Lab, which provides hand-on experiences for students.

The West Michigan Food Processing Association is focused on using the facility to promote healthy food, sustainable business practices and bring women and minorities into the industry.

“It is really triple bottom line: economic, environmental and social impacts,” Gerencer said.

Businesses interested in long-term or short-term rentals at FARM can contact Gerencer at 231-638-2981 or email [email protected] A pricing model for leasing is still being determined.

An official ribbon cutting for the facility will be held later this year.

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