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The University of the District of Columbia's new business-incubator kitchen is set to launch new careers as part of the Urban Food Hubs solution.

The University of the District of Columbia’s (UDC) new business incubator kitchen is well positioned to serve as a model for change. The result of a $280,000 award from the 2nd Annual Sustainable DC Innovation Challenge, the new kitchen—intended as a space for food and nutrition education and job-skills and entrepreneurship training—is projected to be fully operational in November 2015.

As one component of a larger Urban Food Hub model aimed at maximizing the use of urban spaces for food production, preparation, distribution and waste reduction/reuse, the kitchen will serve lower-income residents looking for a leasable space from which they can launch a catering business.

“It’s special because, to my knowledge, we are the only university that is doing this. It’s more prevalent in the commercial industry,” noted Dr. Dwane Jones, director of the Center for Sustainable Development College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) and a key player in the project. 

As a university-based endeavor, education will be the kitchen’s core. In addition to a brick and mortar facility, nutrition education and business training will be inherent in the program. Educators from CAUSES will provide the training. The college is comprised of five land-grant centers, three of which will play a major role in the project—the Center for Sustainable Development, the Center for Nutrition, Diet, and Health, and the Center for Urban Agriculture, the last of which is the starting point for the food production and harvesting component of the model.

“We are unique in that we are a land-grant university,” explained Dr. Jones, “which means we have the task of taking education out from the main campus into the community—relevant research-based education.”

UDC is also the only land-grant institution in the nation with an exclusively urban emphasis. They receive funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offer agriculture-based programming. Every other land-grant university in the nation has a rural component. UDC does not. Their territories are strictly urban, which means they focus on micro- and small-scale urban farming. They work with community gardens and the DC Housing Authority, with whom they are developing a modern urban farm on three acres of vacant land; it is adjacent to a metro stop and easily accessed. They are also currently mapping under-utilized and vacant lots as well as potential green roofs for future acquisition and use. Additionally, the university owns and operates a 143-acre research farm in nearby Beltsville, Maryland, that serves as an agricultural experiment station, where they test innovative ideas and technologies in order to replicate those ideas for application in the District. The university is also home to one of the largest, if not the largest, food production green roofs in the District.

Once the kitchen is up and running in November, interested parties can submit an application to be vetted by a panel.

“They need to demonstrate their motivation,” said Dr. Jones. “Those who are accepted will receive technical support to be successful in the space.”

Of course, the program’s own success will be measured. Those overseeing it will first capture baseline data and then use surveys and interviews to determine behavior modifications of participants and impacts on society at large

“There are many different facets we are pursuing with regard to that,” noted Dr. Jones. “We call it the ‘So What Factor.’ We are engaging in all of these activities and projects and initiatives…so what? What does it mean to an individual? What does it mean to the community? What does it mean to the District as a whole? And because we are the nation’s capital, what does it mean for the nation, as other institutions and entities look to us for leadership?”

There will be a full spectrum of analyses to follow. Dr. Jones calls it the “triple bottom line”—the social, environmental and economic impacts of this project will be the true measure of its success.

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