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Savor the Future of Food Processing in Muskegon, MI

FARM Center gives entrepreneurs and small businesses the resources to turn ideas into reality.

By Teree Caruthers on April 25, 2022

Lively Up Kombucha's Zack Smith and Brenna Kelley at the FARM Center
Teri Genovese

The food and agriculture industries account for more than $100 billion of economic activity across Michigan. The Muskegon Lakeshore region is poised to become a leader in the food processing sector, thanks to innovative new private-public initiatives such as the development of the Food, Agriculture, Research, Manufacturing (FARM) Center, located on the Muskegon Community College campus.

FARM is the result of a collaboration between the West Michigan Food Processing Association, the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, the Michigan State University Product Center and Muskegon Community College (MCC). In addition, the FARM facility gives food entrepreneurs production space to accelerate their business before moving to a building of their own or finding a co-manufacturer.

What is FARM?

The FARM Center is an 8,000-square-foot facility that offers entrepreneurs and small businesses resources to develop and launch new product ideas in the food, agriculture and bioenergy markets.

“For existing food processors, FARM can be used as an R&D space for launching new products or packaging. FARM can also be used to test new equipment and technology used in food processing and packaging,” says Clarence Rudat, Michigan State University FARM manager.

“With Michigan being the second most agriculturally diverse area in the nation and Muskegon in the heart of the diverse production from the tempering climate Lake Michigan provides, there isn’t a better place to connect agriculture production to food processing,” he says.

An assortment of products offered by Kaja’s Flavor in Muskegon, MI
Teri Genovese

Helping Spice Up Business in Muskegon

Kaja Thornton Hunter has used her space in the FARM Center to grow her Cajun spice company, Kaja’s Flavor. “We’re preparing to enter the retail market, so this gives us the manufacturing space to scale up,” Hunter says.

Hunter, who started her company as a hobby-turned-funding source for her social services nonprofit, says the center’s partnership with Michigan State provides business counseling and many wraparound services, from making sure labels and packaging are correct to helping source needed equipment.

“Not only is [the FARM Center] giving us room to grow, but it has also provided us with all sorts of resources, such as the Michigan State University extension.”

Kaja Thornton Hunter | Kaja’s Flavor

“Being a FARM Center tenant gives me the advantage of having that knowledge readily available, which is important for a person like me who comes from a social work background,” Hunter says. “Going into manufacturing and retail, I had no idea about selling and price points; it was a huge learning curve, so to have those services right there at your beck and call is amazing.”

Rudat says the MSU Product Center customizes services to each client, from business planning to market analysis and research to scientific support to technical services.

The FARM Center in Muskegon offers entrepreneurs and small businesses resources to thrive.
Teri Genovese

Growing in the Right Direction

The FARM Center has helped tenant Zack Smith, owner of the family-owned business Lively Up Kombucha, distribute his product to more than 100 retailers across Michigan, including Whole Foods Market.

“When we first started, we were operating out of a very small 800-square-foot retail space, but when FARM opened in 2021, we decided to move forward with expanding our operations,” Smith says. “FARM has allowed us to grow our business and fulfill the demand we’ve had.”

Diving into the Talent Pool

Rudat says the partnership between the FARM Center, Michigan State and MCC will also help build a pipeline of talent to the growing food processing industry.

“Growing the agriculture, food and bioenergy industry will attract a workforce with middle to high skill sets, which will positively impact all industries in West Michigan,” Rudat says. “The educational partnership that Muskegon Community College has with Michigan State will be critical in building that pipeline to provide technical training beyond traditional education.”

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