Food for Thought, Benzie County’s innovative producer of boutique, artisanal local foods, celebrates 20 years in business this year and has been able to pair that anniversary with a nice run of growth. To accommodate the expanding business, the company recently announced it is purchasing Long Lake Elementary School and has renovation plans in mind. We checked in with Food for Thought founder and president Timothy Young to hear the vision.
What about the school caught your attention?
We heard through word of mouth that the school was available and when we contacted TCAPS, we learned it had been on the market for a while and a number of people had already decided they couldn’t use it. But when we looked at it, we saw that, with a few modifications, it would be suitable for us.
Why were you looking for new digs?
We’ve had good growth over the last year or two and we’ve been a little tight in our existing space for quite some time. We can only do production here and we have a warehouse somewhere else and we have frozen storage in Traverse City, so there’s inefficiencies in that. With the school we will be able to bring it all under one roof.
Will you fill the school?
We will use about two-thirds of the school and will be looking for others to lease out the rest. But in addition to production space and storage space, we will also want to keep some classroom space for educational purposes, teach things like field to jar food production. But we are wide open as to what the other 1/3 of the building will be used for.
Will the extra work space change your production methods?
No. We will still be doing what we do here … small batch, artisanal food processing. So that means 10- to 15-gallon batches of product, and somebody standing at each station stirring and watching over it. We will expand capacity with some new machinery, but that’s about it.
What about the site overall, the whole 10 acres?
We will definitely have more elbow room for farming there. The building only occupies about two acres. We will be looking at organic certification, and we will probably start with cover crops for soil improvement the first couple of years. Also the site is much better than our current one for non-fossil fuel energy production. There’s a 120-foot tower that the school used for communication and that we’ve had an engineer look at and confirm that we can use it for wind energy. Also solar is a possibility.
How soon will you be all moved in?
We’ve targeted January 2018 at the latest we want to be in. We still have a lot of due diligence to do, and it needs a new roof and other infrastructure work. It needs a lot of love and attention.
Food for Thought isn’t the only Traverse City business located in an old school. Check out Leelanau Studios at Norris Elementary in this MyNorth video.
Take a look at some of Food for Thought’s products including organic pear and blueberry lavender preserves.
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