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Updated: November 3, 2023

Skowhegan 'food lab' project gets $99K USDA grant

Two women Provided photo Rhiannon Hampson, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Maine state director, with Kristina Cannon, president and CEO of Main Street Skowhegan.

Main Street Skowhegan has been awarded a $99,000 grant towards a planned community kitchen and business incubator that could build the town's cachet as a food and agriculture hub.

The grant, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was announced at a Main Street Skowhegan event by Rhiannon Hampson, the USDA’s Maine state director.

The nonprofit will use the grant to help establish the Kitchen at 185 in a historic downtown building, at 185 Water St. It is due to be renovated and open in late 2024. The project has been likened to South Portland’s Fork Food Lab, but on a smaller scale.

"Skowhegan is a hive of business development, cultural opportunities, and outdoor recreation,” Hampson said. “When a town has this much to offer, it shows the best of what rural life in Maine can be.”

She also gave a shout-out to Main Street Skowhegan "for its vision and perseverance in pursuing not just funding, but true engagement across so many sectors.”

Main Street Skowhegan is led by Kristina Cannon, who was honored on the Mainebiz Next list in 2019.

"Our shared kitchen incubator will significantly reduce barriers to entry for regional aspiring food entrepreneurs and founders looking to grow their food-based business," Cannon told Mainebiz. "We're grateful for the USDA's support as we double-down on asset-based economic development." 

USDA’s competitive Rural Business Development Grant program funds projects by towns, nonprofits, business cooperatives, federally recognized tribes and other entities that provide technical assistance and training for small rural businesses. 

Hampson announced the Rural Business Development Grant at a business pitch competition celebrating the end of a Main Street Skowhegan business training program.

Lyn Govoni of “Lights Up” Productions took home the $5,000 prize, while runner-up Austin Wickett of Bytesum Technologies received the $1,000 prize. Prizes were sponsored by the Maine Technology Institute.

Other participants were Kim Smith of Unbelievable Freedom LLC  and Louis Morin of Franco Foods LLC.

Serving a need 

The Kitchen at 185 will provide food-based businesses access to an affordable commercial kitchen. 

Although it is legal in Maine to prepare and sell many foods prepared from a licensed home kitchen, many foods must be prepared in a commercial kitchen to be safe and legal for sale. 

By allowing area businesses to rent the resources at the Kitchen at 185 on an as-needed basis, Maine Street Skowhegan aims to help entrepreneurs diversify their products and expand capacity sustainably.

Building renderings
Courtesy / Main Street Skowhegan
A shared community kitchen and business incubator is planned for 185 Water St. in Skowhegan, as shown in these early renderings.

The organization will use the USDA grant to provide program and curriculum development and other components of the project. Other businesses and funders have contributed towards the project costs, and fundraising is still underway.

Patric Moore, business relations manager for the Skowhegan Center for Entrepreneurship, told Mainebiz recently that the planned facility comes amid the town’s emergence as a food and agriculture hub.

“Through my work at Main Street Skowhegan, I’ve been noticing an uptick in aspiring entrepreneurs stepping into the food and beverage industry,” he said. “As a way to help foster these types of business, we believe a shared kitchen could have a large impact in the growth and development for business partners and entrepreneurs.”

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