Announced in advance of this weekend’s annual TML conference in Knoxville, the 2018 TML Achievement Awards for Tennessee cities and towns that demonstrate overall excellence, improvement and outstanding departments and programs include an Excellence in Entrepreneurial Leadership Award for Uncoi.
A TML press release commending the town for its creation of Mountain Harvest Kitchen states that “when it comes to economic development … the natural beauty of the Cherokee National Forest that covers most of Unicoi County is “an asset as well as challenge.
“While the town of Unicoi has a population of under 4,000 residents, its small size has not stopped the town from dreaming big and innovating new ways of bringing in business.
“Local leaders in Unicoi have taken an innovative approach to growing business in the area and, as a result, have developed a facility that is now drawing entrepreneurs from three states.”
According to the TML press release, the food business incubator is the only one of its kind in a 50-mile radius and, as such, has brought in both entrepreneurs and farm growers from Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina. And, “as a result, the small town business incubator has become a regional resource.”
Mountain Harvest Kitchen Director Lee manning confirmed Thursday that the eight new food businesses that have so far originated at Mountain Harvest do indeed represent entrepreneurs from locations across the three-state area.
The most recent, she said, are the Lazy Lady Baking Co., launched by Maren Close, a professionally trained chef who is now offering locally sourced baked goods at the farmers markets in Johnson City, Jonesborough and Elizabethton; and Hannah Huffines’ Woodland Baking Co., which sells gluten and dairy-free and vegan pastries at the Elizabethton Farmers Market and at the Dos Gatos Coffee Bar in downtown Johnson City.
While the TML praised Unicoi leaders for their understanding “that entrepreneurs create new jobs, employ local residents and play a pivotal role in creating a unique sense of place that enhances a community’s quality of life,” Manning enumerated the value of kitchen more succinctly.
“That’s eight businesses and 10 jobs,” she said. “And we have several working with us now to get started.”
The TML release notes that in addition to encouraging new business and entrepreneurship, Mountain Harvest Kitchen also serves as an educational facility offering citizens use of a state-of the-art facility with professional quality, commercial kitchen equipment.
Manning said it is Mountain Harvest’s educational programs that have so far been the biggest draw at the kitchen, with close to 300 people attending classes since its August opening.
For home canners and fresh food processors who live in Unicoi, Manning said Mountain Harvest is taking applications for scholarships that provide one free day of use of the kitchen. And for entrepreneurs from anywhere there is a new membership package that discounts the kitchen’s business startup services by 40 percent.
According to the TML release, plans for the kitchen were launched more than a decade ago as a way to boost the region’s economy by combining local agriculture and tourism. Organizations taking part in the planning included the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, First Tennessee Development District, Tennessee Department of Health, East Tennessee State University College of Medicine, Unicoi County UT Extension Office and the Appalachian Resource Conservation & Development Council.
Numerous state and federal grants were awarded to help purchase land, renovate a building and furnish the facility with state-of-the art equipment.
Manning said a new shipment of specialized equipment paid for with a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission is expected to arrive at the kitchen next week and work on a grant-funded farmers market pavilion to be located adjacent to the kitchen will begin later this year.
More information about the kitchen and its upcoming programs can be found online on at unicoitn.net/mountain-harvest-kitchen and at the Mountain Harvest Kitchen page on Facebook.
Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.