The next great idea in food? Jessup incubator: Proposed facility might help Maryland farmers develop and market products.

July 22, 1998

A PLAN to locate a food industry incubator in Jessup is worth pursuing. While the number of farmers in suburbanizing Maryland continues to dwindle, those who still make their living through agriculture need more avenues to earn a buck.

Learning other ways to turn their produce into products for the table could be key to their survival.

Behind this idea is Phil Gottwals, a planner with the Howard County Economic Development Authority, whose mission is to save local farming. Only a few similar incubators operate in the country, most born of agricultural research at universities, he said.

A food incubator in Denver is credited with creating 200 jobs in two years.

The Maryland Food Center Authority, which operates a massive food distribution facility in Jessup for private businesses and public institutions, supports the project. Donald J. Darnall, the authority's executive director, says farmers are very interested in the idea. The next step is to refine the proposal and seek support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in identifying potential tenants and sources of funding.

Between $1 million and $3 million from public and private sources will be needed to start the incubator, Mr. Darnall said. It would probably operate as a nonprofit company. Farmers would rent space in a facility with test kitchens to perfect products.

Restaurateurs and caterers who want to market their specialties might rent the state-of-the-art kitchens as well. Business experts would be available to teach the entrepreneurs how to keep books and market their products.

Maryland has become home to incubator sites that nurture budding entrepreneurs in the high-tech and medical fields. Similar success is possible with a facility that helps develop food products. Consumers are always looking for the latest taste sensation. By next year, a food incubator in Jessup could be developing an item that will one day be on your grocery list.

Pub Date: 7/22/98

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