New Cooperative Extension employee aims to expand St. Lawrence County’s local food system with help of commercial kitchen

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CANTON — Maria P. “Flip” Filippi is excited about her new job because it allows her to help local growers who are interested in creating value-added products with their fruits, vegetables, meat and other products.

Ms. Filippi, 36, started working in mid-April as local foods program leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County. She is also the coordinator for the master gardener and master food preserver volunteer programs. She manages the new commercial kitchen at the extension farm, Route 68.

“It’s a new position for extension and I’m also new in the position,” Ms. Filippi said Friday. “There’s nothing like this commercial kitchen in the county. There’s no other space that’s specifically intended as a rental space for a farmer, a baker, a caterer, a food truck or any kind of food business.”

She said she’s enthused about helping producers. The job involves leading the county’s Local Food Initiative which includes business development and marketing strategies.

“I’m excited about improving the food system more broadly,” Ms. Filippi said. “It’s exciting to me to think about the other things we need to make the points along our food system in St. Lawrence County stronger.”

Better marketing, wholesale outlets and distribution systems can be developed to move forward the county’s food system.

“I’ll be interacting with producers, consumers or community members and helping them with opportunities, whether it’s using the kitchen to diversify or expand their business or opportunities to learn more, such as taking a master food preservation class.”

Giving examples, she said a grower who harvests a lot of carrots or winter squash may want to use the kitchen to vacuum seal them and then sell the product to schools or at a farmers market.

Ms. Filippi is also co-owner of littleGrasse Foodworks, a small-scale diversified community farm on Miner Street Road.

Spreading the word about the extension’s new commercial kitchen and the equipment it houses is on Ms. Filippi’s agenda.

Located at the extension’s farm on Route 68, the kitchen offers commercial-size appliances like a flash freezer.

Six food preservation courses will be scheduled this fall where participants will have the chance to learn a range of skills such as pickling, water bath and pressure canning, fermentation, making jams and jellies, freezing and dehydrating vegetables and meat.

“We’re going to have a range of times so it doesn’t exclude people. We’re going to have weekend, evening and weekday classes,” she said. “We’re just building that program right now. We want to make use of a nice kitchen space that’s already equipped with all of the preservation equipment.”

She is creating a user manual for the kitchen and an orientation program for the kitchen.

Once a month on Fridays from July through October, master garden volunteers will be at the Canton Farmers Market answering questions and offering soil testings. Food preservers will be doing pressure-gauge testings and answering questions.

Ms. Filippi can be reached 315-379-9192, Ext. 229 or by email at: mpf65@cornell.edu.

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