Two years ago this July, the Champaign-Urbana food community lost Daniel H. Schreiber, an amazing champion of the local food movement. Dan had been an enthusiastic owner of Common Ground for years, and when in July of 2009 he decided to turn that passion into creating bean-to-bar chocolate right here in Urbana, the Co-op was proud to be one of the first places in town you could buy his chocolate bars. Dan’s drive and vision created something that the C-U community was very proud to call its own – there was nowhere else to get chocolate that tasted just like Dan’s. He literally gave C-U a flavor all of its own.
I can only imagine what the loss of Dan was like for his friends and family. My experience of Dan was through Common Ground and through the few conversations we’d gotten to have about Dan’s long-term goals for the local food community. Shortly before Dan died, he obtained a health code certified space that was larger than he needed in which to make his chocolate. Dan’s vision wasn’t just to make the Midwest’s finest chocolate – he wanted to see his space serve as a community kitchen of sorts. Dan was still wrestling with what exactly he wanted to accomplish with the kitchen space and asked if I and another local business person would meet with him to discuss and sort through his three big ideas: to use the space to facilitate the start up of other local small food businesses, to offer educational classes on how to prepare foods, and/or to create a space where groups of people could come together to cook or preserve foods for their private use. How to get started? Which of these three big ideas could really fly? We never did get to have those more in-depth conversations about Dan’s three big ideas, but those ideas, and the infectious passion behind them, have stayed with us.
The friends, loved ones, and admirers of Dan came together shortly after his death to make sure Dan’s vision for a kitchen that strengthened our community did not die with him. I was honored to be invited to early discussions with Dan’s family and local non-profit leaders about what could be done about the kitchen. Over a year and a half, the Flatlander Kitchen Fund, now called the Flatlander Food Foundry, threw many successful fundraising events, hosted conversations throughout C-U about how people would like to use a community kitchen, and raised just short of $30,000 toward a future kitchen.
Over that year and a half, many things changed. The Illinois Cottage Food Bill passed in 2011, allowing those wishing to start small food businesses to do so out of their homes. The research done by those working on the Flatlander project showed that incubator kitchens can be difficult to keep viable when not in large cities with lots of rental demand or in rural areas with lots of access to grants and USDA funds. A question arose: was building a brand new incubator kitchen the most effective way to manifest Dan’s vision in our community?
The board of the Flatlander Food Foundry approached Common Ground to discuss a potential partnership in December 2011. The goal of the Foundry had always been to honor Dan’s dream by building a kitchen that could be used for one or more of Dan’s three big ideas. In December of 2011, Common Ground was committed to building a community classroom in our expanded store despite it driving up the cost of the overall project. However, we were unsure if we’d be able to afford to outfit the classroom as a health code certified kitchen where we could teach cooking classes right away. I had figured out that, utilizing some used commercial equipment, it would cost us between $25,000 and $35,000 minimum to build a certifiable kitchen in the classroom. Working together, the Foundry and Common Ground could make that kitchen happen now, and give wings to one of Dan’s three big ideas.
I am excited and honored to announce that the Flatlander Food Foundry is donating the funds it has raised since July of 2010 to Common Ground Food Co-op to help equip your co-op’s upcoming teaching kitchen. Thanks to the Foundry’s $30,000 donation, your co-op’s Flatlander Teaching Kitchen will be ready for cooking classes by the end of the expansion construction.
This kitchen will not be able to do everything Dan dreamed of right away. It will be too small to serve as a rentable kitchen space for those starting food businesses or for those wanting to throw big canning parties. But it will make possible Dan’s dream of giving members of our community hands-on opportunities to learn and teach food skills. Through a new curriculum of Food For All cooking classes that will start up in 2013, we hope to teach hundreds of community members the hands-on skills they need to make cheap, delicious, and healthy meals for themselves and their families. Through this kitchen we plan to reach out to children and young adults and help them develop confidence preparing healthy food. Through this classroom we hope hundreds of people will learn to preserve their own garden produce. It’s not everything Dan hoped to accomplish, but then, we’re only getting started. The torch has been passed to us, fellow owners of Common Ground Food Co-op. How else can Dan’s passion inspire us to grow our food community?
I thought about making this a short letter just announcing the partnership for those of you who did not know Dan, but in the end I decided everyone deserved to hear the story behind how your co-op teaching kitchen will come to pass and how the passion of one man, one local producer, could change our food community. Dan had that kind of passion – and he’s still touching our food community to this day.
Common Ground Food Co-op
Photo of Dan from Smile Politely Magazine by Jeremiah Stanley.