FARMINGTON

San Juan College receives $910k grant from feds to support commercial kitchen project

Price tag for renovation and outfitting of space expected to reach $1.1 million

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The college received word in late September that it had been awarded a $910,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration for the project.
  • The grant has been matched by nearly $230,000 in local funds.
  • The grant is the second government grant the Harvest Food Hub & Kitchen has received in recent weeks.

FARMINGTON — San Juan College officials hope to start work soon on the county's first commercial kitchen, a more than 1,600-square-foot facility to be located inside the Harvest Food Hub & Kitchen that would be available for rent by local entrepreneurs.

The college received word in late September that it had been awarded a $910,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration for the project. According to a news release, the grant will cover the costs of renovating the space, outfitting it with equipment, providing training in the use of the equipment and technical assistance.

The grant has been matched by nearly $230,000 in local funds, bringing the price tag for the project to more than $1 million. The grant is the second government grant the Harvest Food Hub & Kitchen has received in recent weeks, as it also drew a $200,000 grant last month from the Higher Education Endowment Fund of the New Mexico Higher Education Department for the purpose of connecting San Juan College students to fresh and healthy food from local farms.

The facility opened in a renovated city-owned building at 310 W. Animas St. in the summer of 2020 just south of downtown Farmington. It includes a retail shopping space where buyers can purchase fresh, locally grown produce, meats and other food items, as well as walk-in coolers and freezers, and large processing and receiving rooms that are part of its statewide food distribution efforts.

Jacqueline Montoya, the kitchen manager at the Harvest Food Hub & Kitchen near downtown Farmington, stands in the building's warehouse in September, a space that soon will be converted into a commercial kitchen.

The commercial kitchen has been envisioned as an integral part of the building's operations since it opened. But San Juan College officials did not have the money to renovate and outfit the space until now.

Lorenzo Reyes

"We were very pleased with the outcome, especially since we initially requested less money," Lorenzo Reyes, the college's vice president of workforce, economic and resource development, said of the school's grant request.

That first grant application filed by school officials, in the months before the COVID-19 pandemic, was for $650,000, Reyes said. That was the estimated cost of completing the project then.

But over the last two-plus years, inflation and supply chain issues have driven those costs upward. Reyes said the college's application received a significant boost when City of Farmington officials joined their efforts to land the money, providing the kind of community partnership that federal officials were looking for.

A honey bottling machine, left, a freeze drying machine and a honey extractor are three of the pieces of new equipment that already have been purchased for the planned commercial kitchen at the Harvest Food Hub & Kitchen near downtown Farmington.

"This shows the value of a true partnership between the college and the city," Reyes said, explaining that city officials agreed to a lengthy lease with the college for the building and voiced considerable support for the project to federal officials. "That partnership was critical in our success in securing the funding."

Reyes views the commercial kitchen as perhaps the single most important element in the Harvest Food Hub & Kitchen and said it has significant economic development ramifications for the community, given the fact that no commercial kitchens currently are available for use in the area.

Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett echoed that assessment.

Nate Duckett

"The city continues to push with its local partners to find ways to grow our local economy," he said. "The Harvest Food Hub commercial kitchen will be a great addition, and will support local farmers and hobby farmers in producing local foods that will be sold anywhere. We're excited to see that facility continue to grow and meet its potential and support this local agricultural economy."

According to the news release, the project is being funded under the Assistance to Coal Communities Initiative. The Economic Development Administration awards funding on a competitive basis to communities that have been impacted severely by the declining use of coal to support economic diversification, job creation, capital investment, workforce development and re-employment opportunities.

Reyes said college officials will convene Oct. 24 for a kickoff meeting with all the stakeholders to develop a plan for completing the project. Designs for the new kitchen already have been completed by FBT Architects of Albuquerque, and Reyes hopes to see a contract awarded for the construction work by December, once the San Juan College Board of Trustees has signed off on the project. He said he expects it will take 12 to 15 months to complete the renovation and install the new equipment.

The Harvest Food Hub & Kitchen operated by San Juan College near downtown Farmington has received more than $1 million in funding from the state and federal governments in recent weeks for various purposes.

That list of hardware is substantial, although college officials have gotten a jump on it over the last couple of years by already purchasing a freeze-drying machine, a honey-bottling machine and a honey extractor with other grants. Still on the shopping list are stoves, ovens, microwave ovens, coolers, sinks and exhaust vents.

Once it is completed, Reyes envisions the commercial kitchen being leased on a regular basis by small entrepreneurs producing everything from pasta to tamales.

Jacqueline Montoya, the Harvest Food Hub & Kitchen's kitchen manager, told The Daily Times last month she already receives calls on a weekly basis from owners of small food companies who are looking for a commercial kitchen. She believes the facility will have no shortage of users, with local entrepreneurs being joined by social service organizations or sports teams renting it to create products to sell during fundraisers.

The largely empty warehouse at the Harvest Food Hub & Kitchen near downtown Farmington will be converted into a 1,600-square-foot commercial kitchen available for rent by entrepreneurs.
(Photo: Mike Easterling/The Daily Times)

Reyes said he believes the unique mix of cultures in the Four Corners area — Anglo, Latino and Native — and the influences that are reflected in the food of each of those cultures could begin to make San Juan County a culinary destination for foodies from around the globe. The opening of the commercial kitchen project could contribute significant momentum to that movement, he said.

The project also will help raise the visibility of and interest in the other elements of the 8,500-square-foot Harvest Food Hub, Reyes noted, including its retail aspect. He said the building soon will have all the components required of a healthy ecostructure for a local food movement.

"All these things are coming together to allow new businesses to fully develop," he said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.