Case Study: Douglas County KS Culinary Commons (2019)

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Providing Community Resources

Culinary Commons - woman making pastries Located at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, just off K-10 in Lawrence, Kansas, Culinary Commons is a county-owned community incubator kitchen that offers local entrepreneurs the resources needed to produce food and other products for sale throughout the community and grow their businesses. Culinary Commons aims to: (1) increase the utilization of the kitchen as a commercial processing kitchen for entrepreneurs; (2) support start-up local food businesses by providing access to equipment and facilities for product creation; and (3) improve the community’s access to locally-grown and prepared products.

To achieve these goals, Culinary Commons provides almost 700 square feet of kitchen space, allowing entrepreneurs to avoid the expensive upfront costs of a commercial kitchen. Culinary Commons also includes commercial kitchen equipment such as a six-burner range, convection oven, tilting kettle, merchandiser refrigerator, mobile racks, and several stainless-steel worktables, among other items. Culinary Commons offers these resources at an affordable rate of $25 per six-hour block or $50 per day.

 

How Policy Changes Allow Culinary Commons to Support Local Entrepreneurs

Culinary Commons - man cooking Designed in 2005, Culinary Commons grew out of a concessions and food preparation space at the fairgrounds, and is still available for public use at community events. Significant policy changes in 2013 provided users more opportunities to use the facility to launch their food businesses and align the facility’s usage with fairgrounds policy. The policy change, which was a Douglas County Food Policy Council initiative, allowed for the rental of just the kitchen facility within the larger community building so that entrepreneurs, farmers, or community member could use the space for their needs. “The 2013 policy change was motivated to create greater opportunities for entrepreneurs and others in our local food system with an underutilized public asset,” says Helen Schnoes, the Douglas County Sustainability and Food Systems Planner.

Douglas County revised the policy in 2017 to eliminate inconsistencies with the existing policy and fairgrounds policy that had emerged from the use of the kitchen space by entrepreneurs. Schnoes explains, “In particular, the new policy explicitly forbade the sale of goods on premise and align[ed] other aspects of the site’s rental policy and procedures with a broader policy update that the County was completing for the fairgrounds.”

In addition to the policy changes, the Douglas County Food Policy Council collaborated with Kansas State Research and Extension to do a branding effort that included naming the space “Culinary Commons” and promoting it through local partners such as the KU Small Business Development Center.

The policy changes also brought some challenges. The reservation and key system could be more user-friendly, and there is no method for tracking how the Culinary Commons is being used nor the impact it is having. Nonetheless, the Culinary Commons is an important asset for the Douglas County community. “What we’ve done is a great example of what a little bit of investment in intentionally thinking about public assets in new ways can lead to, and of the enormous value that some creative design work can bring to change ‘incubator kitchen at Building 21 at the fairgrounds’ into Culinary Commons,” said Schnoes.

 

This publication was drafted by the Public Health Law Center. Funding for this publication was provided by KC Healthy Kids. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official view of KC Healthy Kids.