Farm to Table operates out of the former IBM kitchen, using readapted and salvaged equipment from the once abandoned cafeteria to suit its operation’s needs: making local food and food products more readily available to the local market as well as national markets.
Hyland and Roels created the company with a big picture idea to regionalize the food system. A key ingredient was to have a processing facility large enough and versatile enough to accommodate diverse local farms and food entrepreneurs who make chili, jams and jellies, pickles and pickled veggies, quiches, baked goods, meats, and cheeses—and that’s exactly what Farm to Table Co-Packers aims to do in their readapted home.
Already, 15 companies are processing their foods in this 21,000-square-foot, USDA-certified production kitchen which now employs 14 workers. Hyland hopes to employ up to 27 workers within the next two years, running two shifts on the production line.
In addition to running Farm to Table, Hyland is the owner of Winter Sun Farms, whose winter CSA sells frozen Hudson Valley produce to more than 1,400 member families throughout the Hudson Valley and New York City. Roels and his wife Pika own Pika’s Farm Table, a company that produces and sells homemade quiches, tarts and soups. In this venture, Hyland, a former equity trader, handles the business end while Roels manages the kitchen.
Hyland says he and Roels looked at several facilities, but that with this enormous kitchen and equipment already in place, TechCity “was a no-brainer.”
“You’re taking a kitchen that already has the infrastructure and just changing the use of it,” Hyland says. “It has freezers, the cooler, the floor, and it has a loading dock. These are huge expenses if you’re building brand new somewhere.”
The renovation and equipment upgrades represent an investment of roughly $1.2 million, from grants, loans, and the partners’ own money, Hyland said. Farm to Table received a Small Business Association loan through the New York State Business Development Corporation in order to afford the start-up costs.
All the refrigerators were salvaged, the dishwasher was repurposed as a vegetable washer, and the conveyer belt that once moved the lunch trays of IBM workers is now used as a production line for packaging.
Aside from merely assigning new purposes to old equipment, the new upgrades to the facility are sustainable ones, which fit neatly into TechCity’s vision of becoming the epicenter for high-tech green businesses.
“They are part of our green initiative,” says Dan Weineke, president of TechCity.
EarthKind Energy, Inc., a neighboring business in TechCity, installed solar panels for Farm to Table’s hot water heating. There is also a machine devised to capture heat from the compressor of the refrigeration units in order to heat the floors and keep them from buckling.
In addition, Farm to Table will install an Individual Quick Frozen (IQF) freezer that will allow them to freeze smaller products while diversifying the types of clients they are able to serve. Farm to Table is currently working with the Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation to secure a grant to fund an IQF freezer.
“To build something new that would have all this stuff in it somewhere else just wouldn’t make sense,” Hyland says. “So this was a perfect fit.”
According to Hyland, the demand for local products is growing, but there were no facilities in place to meet that request. Hyland and Roels hope that Farm to Table could be the company that finally fills that void.
Hyland is pushing for local product development from local farmers, asking questions like, “Why don’t we have a Hudson Valley apple sauce?” or “Why don’t Rondout Valley Growers have their own line of products?”
Hyland is confident though, because while the products aren’t there yet, the infrastructure to develop them is in place.
Equally as important is the facility’s versatility. Farm to Table can support clientele like Rick’s Picks, a local pickling entrepreneur who distributes nationwide with Whole Foods, and, at the same time, Farm to Table can support a single farmer looking to produce one pallet of raspberry jam.
“It’s gone beyond concept,” Hyland says.
Prior to creating Farm to Table, Hyland and Roels worked together for four years at Hudson Valley Foodworks, which has been slowly closing down. At Hudson Valley Foodworks, the production was staggered and isolated, according to Hyland. Keeping that in mind, the production at Farm to Table was designed to flow in an orderly and timely fashion. Automation takes place in areas like washing, prepping, and filling. According to Roels, the kitchen is set up in a way that ingredients are cooked within 30 minutes of their initial slicing and dicing, assuring consumers that this is still home style cooking.
“We’re still cooking in a pot, only a larger pot,” Roels says. “We’re making our process efficient in a way that won’t affect the quality and the taste of the food.”
For Luba Pincus, co-owner of The Manhattan Chili Co., the facility will afford her the opportunity to try new things. Pincus and her husband, Bruce Sterman, produce eight all natural chili recipes that Whole Foods distributes in the Tri-state area and New England.
“This is a world of difference,” says Pincus, who previously worked out of the Hudson Valley Foodworks facility. “This is a spectacular, well equipped, unbelievably well designed, and efficient facility.”
For Pincus, the facility’s independent incubator kitchen will allow her to test run new products that customers have requested. The designation of the incubator kitchen was a key part of the Farm to Table vision because it fosters and encourages the creation of new food business in the state. The incubator kitchen is partially funded by Congressman Maurice Hinchey to further build his 209 Food Corridor initiative, which is expected to boost the local economy by linking more than 50 local farms and food ventures along Route 209 between Kingston and Ellenville with distributors bringing local produce to New York City.
“I think we’ve achieved the biggest part,” Hyland says referring to the opening of Farm to Table.
Farm to Table is already seeing the demand for this kind of facility. According to Hyland, there are already over 35 new producers that have signed up with the company online looking to produce at the TechCity facility.