By LEIGH VINCOLA/ecoRI News contributor
PAWTUCKET, R.I. — The Harvest Kitchen Project is one of the many arms of Farm Fresh Rhode Island that keeps local food circulating in our communities. The program takes area youth, ages 16-19 who are involved with juvenile corrections, and puts them to work making sauces, pickles and other preserves.
The teenagers participate in a 20-week job-readiness program that prepares them for employment in the food industry. The program touches not only on kitchen skills but the on the many aspects of work in the culinary industry, from sales and customer service to local farm sourcing to teamwork and cooperation. Harvest Kitchen sources its ingredients from area farms, and the products are currently sold through Farm Fresh’s Market Mobile and at farmers markets and other retail locations.
For the past several years, Harvest Kitchen has operated out of a commercial kitchen space in Pawtucket, near Farm Fresh headquarters at Hope Artiste Village. Operations, however, will soon be moving to a new location, in collaboration with the Pawtucket Central Falls Development (PCF).
When PCF approached Farm Fresh with its rehabilitation plan for 2 Bayley St., a downtown multi-use building that would include affordable housing, retail space and job-training opportunities, the match seemed perfect. Construction of a customized commercial kitchen is close to complete and Harvest Kitchen’s move is scheduled for sometime this summer, with the intention of being fully operational for summer food production.
The new kitchen will allow for more employment opportunities for teens from Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls, and for the entire program to grow and expand.
Jen Stott, Harvest Kitchen manager, also hopes to partner with small producers to help with recipe development, jarring and design — work that is often hard for a start-up company to do on its own.
“The move to the new space is going to help the program reach more people and have a greater impact on the communities we serve,” Stott said.
The retail store on Bayley Street will be managed by Claudia Espaillat and will focus on selling not only the preserved products made by teenagers but also healthy, seasonal grab-and-go meals, smoothies and some grocery items, all designed to be eligible for SNAP benefits.
The new downtown space will also support other Farm Fresh programs and provide the community with a demonstration kitchen.
“We canvassed the community about what they would like to see happen here and the response was great,” Espaillat said.
She said there were plenty of requests for one-pot meal recipes and for help with how to make SNAP benefits stretch.
The goal of Harvest Kitchen is to create an engaged retail space that the residents of Pawtucket and Central Falls feel they are a part of, Stott said.
To facilitate the move and cover initial operating costs, Harvest Kitchen is in the middle of a fundraising campaign that runs through July.