Mountain Harvest Headway - Unicoi's community kitchen taking shape

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Aug 13, 2015 at 7:37 AM

UNICOI — Phase one construction of Unicoi’s Mountain Harvest Kitchen is progressing rapidly.

Since breaking ground on the $1.2 million project on July 13, interior demolition and several major upgrades have been completed on the building, which will house the food and agricultural business incubator being developed by the town with assistance from East Tennessee State University’s Innovation Lab.

Concrete floors have been poured and polished for two rooms designated for produce preparation and storage. Plumbing works have been installed in the building’s walls, a new roof has been framed in and covered with insulation board, an exterior slab was poured on Monday and the kitchen’s heavy grade metal roofing is expected to arrive this week.

“They’re moving right along,” Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said Wednesday. 

“Once they get the metal, the roof will be done in no time. They’ll be done with phase one pretty quick. And the way the grants are looking, I think we’ll start phase two soon, maybe October. We want to be in it this winter.“

When complete, the 3,700-square-foot facility will include three certified commercial kitchen areas, a food research and development lab, freezer and cooler space, dry storage, a produce prep room and a reception area — all designed to help local entrepreneurs grow their own food businesses.

”It’s a business incubator to help people who what to start food businesses,“ Lynch said. ”There will be entrepreneurial workshops offered there by ETSU. People can use it for canning. And we’ll have canning classes there, too.”

More than five years in the making, the project is being funded through a combination of local financing and state and federal grants.

The facility is next to the Unicoi Visitors Information and Tanasi Art and Heritage Center at Exit 32 of Interstate 26 on a two-acre site purchased by the town through a $220,000 capital outlay note.

Its development is being funded with grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Tennessee Office of Rural Development.

ETSU’s Innovation Lab and Center for Outreach and Applied Community Resources were closely involved in the kitchen’s planning and will play a key role in its operation.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.