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By Nina Dewees

Before you see Union Kitchen you can’t really understand what it is. I told my friends that this summer I was going to work for a “food business incubator” (air quotes always required) that helped small food businesses get off the ground. I was curious about Union Kitchen and thought their mission was important—I wanted to work for a company that promoted locally owned food businesses and face-to-face interactions in the food system, and Union Kitchen seemed to do that. But I didn’t understand the day-to-day of Union Kitchen until I got here, and it turns out that that is the most important part.

I found my internship at Union Kitchen through a program called FoodWorks, run by Middlebury College. For two months, I lived with eleven other kids, all doing food-related internships in DC, and took a course called “Exploring Local Food Systems.” Through the course we got to see many parts of the local DC food system. We met with restaurateurs, urban gardeners, politicians, and even with Union Kitchen’s founders. One question that kept arising was the importance of the local food movement. Critics of local food claim that it is an elitist movement, because local food is more expensive on account of its small scale or because local food can only be purchased at venues that cater to the upper class. Others say that local food is more sustainable and personalizes the food system. Not all of the people we met through our class held the same opinion on local food, but Union Kitchen convinced me of the movement’s importance.

In one all-staff meeting, my boss (who is such a boss) Mary Beth, the Director of Marketing, posed a seemingly simple question to the group: “What is Union Kitchen?” – Stemming from my experiences over my two months here, this is my answer.

Union Kitchen is the people we interact with every single day. It is all of the incredible, driven, and exuberant staff who make the operation run. It is Jonas and Cullen, our fearless leaders, pushing the Union Kitchen staff and members to always reach further. It’s the Membership department that brings in new Members, helping them start or expand their food businesses. It’s all of the business owners who come to the Kitchen to cook and to learn from their peers. It’s the Distribution department that brings the products of these businesses, made by producers we get to interact with every day, to stores where more local residents can support local businesses. It is the Catering department that expertly pulls together the products of many different Union Kitchen members to create gourmet meals, buffet stations, or even a snack bar, so that, again, more DC residents can experience DC-made products.

Union Kitchen is the two-ingredient chocolate bar made by Adam of Undone Chocolate who sits next to me in the conference room with his intern Liz discussing their next demo at a grocery store or changes in their branding. Union Kitchen is the happy hour at Ivy City, our new location, where I met a woman who works all over the world in international development, but her dream is to start a micro-green business. Union Kitchen is our head Kitchen Steward, once an inmate, who now knows more about how the shared kitchen runs than anyone and who is absolutely crucial to making operations run smoothly. Union Kitchen is when one of our member catering companies brings home extra food from an event and all of the staff and members get to have a lunch party. Union Kitchen is ordering the best double-chocolate cake in DC from Rare Sweets, a Union Kitchen alumni member who now has her own bakery and a successful retail and catering business.

Union Kitchen is the community that is created by all of these moving parts and passionate people.

Union Kitchen is creating a new, personal, local DC food system. Working here has taught me that it is possible to have a local business and make a living by catering and selling to grocery stores, or opening up your own store. It is possible to have a system in which people know who makes the food they eat, as opposed to buying from anonymous international food companies. I hope the model created by Union Kitchen in the US will be an example to other cities in the country and even the world.

In The News


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I Want a New Pug: Smoked Peanuts, Smoked Cheese, Smoked… – Urban Daddy profiles the “smoked everything” offerings from Black Pug Smokehouse, highlighting Black Pug’s smoky peanut butter and Jowl Jam. – Urban Daddy

Creative Crush: Undone Chocolate – ETXE blogger Stephanie M. Echeveste confesses her “Creative Crush” on Undone Chocolate in this Q&A; where co-owner Adam Kavalier discusses how Undone’s bean-to-bar process combines both science and art to make one heck of a chocolate bar. –ETXE

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Smoothie Ice Cubes from Bright Green are Pretty Ingenious – The Washington Post checks out Bright Green’s “Smoothie Shakers,” calling the smoothies an ingenious solution to the hassle of making smoothies. – Washington Post

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Cherry Blossom Creative Wins Adobe Creative Jam Competition – With just three hours to create a work of art on the spot, Cherry Blossom Creative won the Adobe Creative Jam competition by a landslide with their design inspired by the “Zelda” video game.

 

 

 

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Take A Trip To D.C.’s Indoor Beach, Where It’s Always 75 And Sunny – In little more than a week since its opening, the BEACH has garnered not just local – or even national – press; it’s gone global! Profiled in countless outlets from NPR’s Morning Edition to Thailand’s Cultured Creaturesthe National Building Museum’s indoor “beach” features a Union Kitchen Snack Bar with dozens of Union Kitchen Members products; with several Members also contributing to weekly evening programming with menu items and cocktail components. – NPR, USA Today, Washington PostCQ Roll Call, CBS Local, Vanity Fair, Fast Company, Daily MailArchitectural Digest, Mashable

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DC Couple at Chups Make Fruit Ketchup – Tommy McFly from WUSA9 visits Union Kitchen with Kori Hill Wallace and Matt Wallace of ‘Chups; learning about the husband-wife team’s process for making their delicious fruit-based ketchups. – WUSA9

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Why You Should be Drinking More Cold-Brew Coffee – Highlighted as a more viable option for coffee drinkers with sensitive stomachs, Confluence Coffee Co. discusses how their cold-brew coffee uses coffee beans aged in oak chips, for a brew that’s both fruity and chocolatey, with a hint of smokiness. – Washington Post

 

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Chef Space Kitchen to Help Foodie EntrepreneursChef Space, Louisville’s first kitchen incubator focusing on food entrepreneurship, celebrates its ground-breaking in a ceremony this week. Community Ventures, which owns Chef Space, partnered with Union Kitchen and the Louisville health department to develop an incubator that provides resources, training, and a licensed space for entrepreneurs to flourish. – The Courier-Journal, Louisville Eccentric Observer, The Lane Report, WDRB, Wave 3

Free Afternoon Program Teaches Children About Eating Healthy and Growing Vegetables – LEAF, a free-afternoon program organized by Common Good City Farm, teaches children “about healthy eating and how vegetables can taste good,” says program coordinator Kelly McGuinness, explaining that she believes that “Their hard work can often result in something fruitful. I hope they take that with them wherever they go.” – WJLA News

Volunteer D.C.: 14 Ways to Combat Hunger in The District – Common Good City Farm is highlighted as a resource for D.C. residents to help do their part to combat hunger in the District. The organization grows over 5,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables at their garden in LeDriot Park, and offer training in food production, healthy eating, and environmental sustainability. – DCist

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Are Stinging Nettles the New Ramps? – Common Good City Farm‘s resident herbalist, Tricia McCauley, discusses the current surge of stinging nettles on restaurant and bar menus across D.C., noting that they have a history of practical uses. “Nettles have been used medicinally for years,” says McCauley, “This year it unexpectedly showed up in my garden, so I made a tonic with it.”  – The Washington Post

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Cake Pops in D.C. and All the Week’s Hot DishPops by Haley founder Haley Raphael is hailed as “one to watch” for push-up cake pops that looked “darned irresistible.” – Forward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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