DADE CITY — Whitney Elmore saw room for opportunity when she drove by the empty county building five years ago.
Elmore had just become director of the Pasco County Extension, part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Her goal was simply to improve the economic and resource opportunities in the community, and she saw that building as a place to begin.
She spoke last month in her soft Kentucky accent to more than 50 people, introducing them to the new incubator kitchen 15029 14th St.
"The wins that we have in terms of public servants tend to be small, and they tend to take a lot of time,” she said to a Tampa Bay Times reporter. “It moved so much quicker because folks could really see the benefit in the community.”
The day-to-day operations of the kitchen will vary, Elmore said. On some days, residents will be able to reserve space to make goods for their home or business use. Jams, pickles, cupcakes and more can be made in bulk to later be consumed or sold. Two to three people can use the kitchen at a time.
The cost will be $10 to $20, depending on how many hours a person uses the kitchen. Dozens of people already have asked about reserving spaces, Elmore said, including people from counties outside of Pasco.
Other days will be reserved for educational seminars like food safety or as a place for the Pasco Economic Development Council to offer entrepreneurial training.
The kitchen is modest in size, but it has the equipment needed to educate and build the fundamentals of food entrepreneurship. It also sits next to several classrooms, where Elmore envisions classes on nutrition, basic food preservation and canning.
The kitchen includes a stove, sink, freezer, fridge and icebox. Most of the appliances were donated by Welbilt, a local supplier of commercial food service equipment.
In addition to the donated equipment, the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners put $30,000 toward renovating the space.
“It’s amazing. It gives me chills. This is my hometown,” County Commissioner Ron Oakley said. “Entrepreneurs will start their new businesses right here out of this kitchen.”
Outside there is a “farmden,” which is more than a garden and less than a farm, Elmore said. A small group of chickens walked by the horticultural demonstration areas last month, and by community garden plots where green bell pepper plants already were sprouting.
The goal for the space is for it to become a model, Elmore said. She would like to open at least two more of these programs in central and west Pasco. Her hope is to host a farmer’s market at the Dade City location.
“We already know we are creating new businesses,” she said. “We also want to showcase what this particular community has to offer in terms of growth and community.”
How to get involved
To reserve the kitchen or large classroom for culinary use, call 352-521-1254, and email email@example.com for the reservation form.