Common Ground: Food for Thought anchors new culinary campus

For 23 years, Food for Thought’s founder Tim Young commuted just 100 feet from his Honor home to work next door. That commute got a few miles longer last March when the company became the first resident at the new Long Lake Culinary Campus in Traverse City.

The move marks the next stage for Food for Thought as well as new opportunities for artisanal food entrepreneurs and new life for the former Long Lake Elementary School.

Young says the move was exciting, yet bittersweet.

“We saw the last jar of Food for Thought product go down our production line at our original facility this past March … the end of an era,” he said, reflecting on more than two decades working from a home-based business and small production facility on the family’s organic farm near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

“We’re very excited [with the new space],” he said, “and looking forward to collaborating with other food artisans … it’s a great environment that we’re proud to be a part of.”

Food for Thought anchors the Culinary Campus with its farming, production kitchen, processing and retail operations. Located on North Long Lake Road in the former Long Lake Elementary School, the remaining facility is subdivided into leased spaces for small food artisans and food-related businesses that can take advantage of shared resources such as loading docks, warehouse, freezer space, common work areas, conference rooms and land for small crop production.

According to Young, Food for Thought transitioned to Long Lake in March, followed by several weeks setting up operations with test runs and related start-up. Production of its small batch food products began in full by mid-April.

Compared to prior operations, Young says they have added a bit more automation, more production and warehouse space as well as room to grow. Food for Thought is using close to 20,000 square feet, or about 25-30 percent of the Culinary Campus facility.

A key benefit has been the efficiencies created by bringing all operations and their 18 employees under one roof. Prior to the move, production took place in Honor, with warehouses off-site in Leelanau County and freezers in Traverse City. The need for off-site facilities resulted as the business grew out of its original space.

“There was a lot of driving involved,” Young said.

Young incorporated his passion for just and sustainable food into all stages of his business’s growth, including its latest chapter. Long Lake Culinary Campus is owned by Tamarack Holdings, a group of local and regional food enterprises and niche agribusiness interests owned by J.T. “Chip” Hoagland.

In rehabbing the vacant elementary school and its 10.5-acre site, the campus has been creatively repurposed as a micro-food hub. Young acted as project manager through the construction process, utilizing green practices and shared experiences to shape the facility from vision through completion. Its official grand opening is slated for Sept. 27.

The Culinary Campus has been chosen as a prototype for Consumer Energy’s Net Zero program. Currently at the design stage, it is on track to become Consumers’ first Net Zero commercial building by 2021.
The facility is now complete with 10 “white box” suites of 1,000-2,500 square feet that can be finished to tenants’ needs as well as access to significant shared facilities, resources and in-house business services. Examples include warehousing, freezers, loading docks, conference room and workout facilities. A retail store is available to sell products to the public. In the future, the site’s property could be utilized for small-scale farming while flexibility to offer tours is in place.

“This will allow second stage entrepreneurs or start-ups to avoid some of the high cost of entry-level capital infrastructure and minimize their footprint,” Young said, noting the added advantages of synergy among the entrepreneurs.

The only other tenant is Teddy Bear Day Care and Nursery School, an added value to those working at the Culinary Campus.

“It was important for us to have on-site, licensed child care for our employees,” Young said.