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Side Dishes: Vermont Food Venture Center debuts in Hardwick

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Friday marked the unveiling of Hardwick’s Vermont Food Venture Center, a 15,000-square-foot kitchen incubator and food-processing center. Though it quietly opened last summer, supporters such as Sen. Patrick Leahy gathered last week to cut the ribbon.

A key part of the dosh that covered the $3 million cost was $450,000 in federal funds secured by Leahy, who spoke to the hundreds who turned out for the opening. “Wow. This is something,” he gushed.

Shared kitchens, rentable by the hour, where food producers can bake and boil their wares, buoy the center. Users can also package and store goods there, or access recipe and business consulting. Current clients include Sumptuous Syrups, Për’s Smoked and the Cellars at Jasper Hill, a flagship tenant that will mentor other cheese makers.

Among the producers sharing their morsels at the celebration was Lisa Johnson of Yummy Yammy, who comes to the center once a week to roast New England sweet potatoes into a range of dips. “I want to change the way we think about sweet potatoes!” she enthused.

But logistics can get in the way of passion. Johnson was spilling out of her Norwich kitchen when she realized she desperately needed more room. “I had nine Crock-Pots going on my kitchen stove for four hours. I reached a point where I had to have a place like this to come, or I needed to shut down,” she said.

Though the drive to Hardwick takes Johnson 90 minutes, the center enables her to ramp up production as her list of customers expands. “This place really made it possible,” she said.

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