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Thursday, October 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 64.0° F  Overcast
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Isthmus Indie Awards 2013: Dynamic Developer -- Ellen Barnard, FEED Kitchens
Barnard helped create a commercial kitchen for independent food producers.
Credit:Laura Zastrow

Dynamic Developer: Creating sustainable projects that benefit the community.

"It would be easier to list what parts of the project I haven't been a part of," Ellen Barnard confesses of her involvement with the new FEED Kitchens, to open Nov. 1 adjacent to the Northgate Shopping Center.

Barnard, 52, is credited with galvanizing the much-anticipated kitchen incubator, created along with the Northside Planning Council, of which she was a member.

The increase in small, artisanal, independent food producers is a national phenomenon. From home bakers looking to sell their treats on a small scale, to picklers and canners and jam-makers, to food cart vendors, there's often one thing standing in the way of getting the fledgling food business off the ground: the lack of a commercial kitchen in which to cook.

"Homemade" cannot be "home made"; an official, inspected kitchen is needed if you're selling your product. And while Madison had an obvious interest in small-scale food production, kitchen space was tight. The closest kitchen/business incubator space was in Watertown.

Barnard says the idea came out of asking the community what it needed. She took on surveys and feasibility studies. She was there through design and site selection, fundraising and grant writing. "I was the constant, the fulcrum," says Barnard, "but there were literally hundreds of volunteers. I was just the one who kept the crazy ball of yarn together." And she herself was a volunteer.

Barnard, who along with her partner owns four businesses, including A Woman's Touch, has a background in social work, not business. "But many pieces of business are social work. It's all about getting the right people at the table," she says.

Barnard will remain involved in FEED as a fundraiser, but also as a user. She and her partner are launching Farm 2 Fork, to help farmers process their excess produce so "it doesn't end up in the compost heap."

While the FEED Kitchens will create jobs and opportunities for new businesses, for Barnard, it also demonstrates how business is a social enterprise within the community. "I thank the FEED project for teaching me so much, that I will use, for whatever comes next."

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