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You may not believe that the simple act of planting a garden can shape issues like economics, health, and politics but because food is an essential focal point of human activity, it surely can.  We’ve learned that the expansion of urban farming is vital for our community!

Urban garden projects, like ours, can help resolve many of the problems plaguing our community.  With over 80 percent of the American population living in metropolitan centers, urban farming and urban garden projects have the ability to dramatically enhance economic growth, increase food quality, and build healthier communities.

That’s why we’ve went beyond the current Urban Garden located at the SWFL Enterprise Center on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and we’ve added a second location between Flint & Barden Streets.  When completed, the property will be leased to a local non-profit partner (iWill Foundation) who will be facilitating the planting of a wide variety of organic produce.  This urban farm and community garden will also incorporate educational opportunities that will allow families and students to learn how to plant, grow, harvest and prepare healthy food.

 

Most people think of food only as fuel but many know it to be of medicinal use as well.  But can food make the further jump to being an environmentally sustainable emblem of culture and community?

Yes, said Will Allen, founder of Growing Power Inc., an urban farm in a poor, African-American neighborhood of Milwaukee that spent its first decade or so training young people to cultivate fresh produce.  If the farm got publicity, it was mostly among white people. But when first lady Michelle Obama installed a vegetable garden at the White House and invited Allen there to speak in 2010, "Ten million folks all of a sudden wanted to learn to grow food," Allen said, "especially people of color."

Growing Power is now a nationally known leader in the urban agriculture movement, and Allen was recognized with a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" in 2008.

Let’s take a closer look at the reasons we need more urban farms:

  1. Economic Growth

The economic benefits realized through urban farming are localized, thus keeping dollars circulating through the community. Urban farms also have a fantastic return on investment, with every $1 invested in a community garden generating $6 worth of vegetables.  Any profits can be used to fund additional programs, scholarship programs and other services to ensure the community members, especially children, can gain access to new food related opportunities.

  1. Community Building

In 2010, a total of 14.5 percent of households were food insecure, with a further 5.4 percent experiencing “severe” food security. Community health is, as one report describes it, “the social and economic capacity of a community to create an environment that sustains the visions, goals and needs of its residents.” Increased food security is a crucial component to realizing this vision. The social organization required for most urban farming projects can forge stronger community bonds by creating “stakeholder interactions” that give individuals a sense of responsibility and productivity.  

  1. Food Quality and Health

  Studies have shown that nutrition and exercise, along with proper mental and physical health are all augmented by the growth of urban gardens. According to three experts from the Community Food Security Coalition, a small garden can have a major impact on food needs: “In a 130- day temperate growing season, a 10’x10’ meter plot can provide most of a 4-person household’s total yearly vegetable needs, including much of the household’s nutritional requirements for vitamins A, C, and B complex and iron.”          

This solves the directly related problems food insecurity and poor nutrition. The act of gardening is also great exercise that improves physical health: reducing risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. The act of cultivation has significant impact on mental health as well, assisting with social skills, improving self-esteem and helping with stress reduction

The impact of urban gardens and urban farming on local communities and families is undeniable.  Get your family involved in the urban farming revolution!  

To learn more about our Urban Gardening programs or to contribute financially, please see our Support Us page and click on the “Click Here” link in the Urban Garden section of the page.

Restaurant Incubator

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It is our hope that our unique Restaurant Incubator initiative will launch one of the best and most unique restaurant concepts in all of Lee County or SW Florida. We want to cultivate and accelerate undiscovered Chefs by providing a forum to showcase their capabilities, hone their craft, develop business acumen, and build a cult following behind their concepts.

The SWFL Enterprise Center has recently submitted a business plan for the use of McCollum Hall, located on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Fort Myers.  It is a perfect space to conduct such a program.  With the option of having four to six fully outfitted kitchens and seats for 250 guests, we provide the infrastructure for Chefs to bring their concepts to market at low-risk and for low-cost.

Description of Service

Shared risk, mutual benefit. The investment model calls for a mutual concern for the success of the fledgling operation. Obviously, the chef wants to launch the concept away from the confines of the security of the incubator catalyst. The process of building the startup, staking it with a unique product array and defining a brand is at the core of the business.

Our selected Chefs will spend 18 months with us. They run their own restaurants in our space and have the autonomy to run their businesses the way they’ve always dreamed. They set the menu. They hire a staff. They interact directly with the customer and build their following.  The bulk of their success relies solely upon them although we will be available for consultation on a regular basis and oversee the processes of each Chef.

Every Monday – when we are closed to the public – the Chefs attend weekly trainings by industry leaders on branding, business plan drafting, marketing, and restaurant operations. We help them fuse their artistic talent with business skill. In the final six months of their terms here, they continue to run their restaurants while we help them secure financing and find their next site in the city. We expose them to our network of real estate developers and financiers to make their restaurant dream become reality.

Meanwhile, to the public we offer a full bar, coffee & espresso bar, and up to 6 innovative restaurants in our 9,000 square foot space. Every 18 months, we bring in up to 6 new, aspiring restaurateurs and start again. In a city that is constantly moving forward, we will continually reinvent our historic space on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. to feature the very best of the culinary world, and give them a stage to share their talents with the world.

Enterprise Center Business Incubator Model

Chefs operate their restaurants rent-free for their entire 18 month stay with us.  The Enterprise Center collects 30% of top-line revenue generated from each restaurant. Chefs use the other 70% to purchase inventory, compensate staff, and pay themselves. All marketing, advertising, equipment maintenance, space upkeep, and utility costs are covered by The Enterprise Center.

Each chef will have a full kitchen at their disposal including the following equipment:

  1. 10-burner range + 8-foot hood
  2. Convection ovens
  3. Salamander
  4. 23-cubic-foot upright refrigerator
  5. 67” Prep table + under counter double-doored refrigerator
  6. Under counter double-doored freezer
  7. Prep sink + front prep table
  8. Hand sink

We have built extra space for specialized equipment that a Chef may require for his or her restaurant.

What does the Chef need to bring “to the table”?

First and foremost, we are looking for talented Chefs who have dreams of starting their own restaurants, and who have an interesting, compelling story to tell. In terms of hard assets, we require that Chefs supply their own cookware, such as knives, pots, pans, and other ovenware. Chefs will also need to show working capital equivalent to 3 months of projected operating expenses for their restaurant concept.

The proposed incubator model combines a structured curriculum of small business technical assistance with personalized mentoring and coaching to address the specific needs of each entrepreneur.

Value Proposition & Rationale

The proposed incubator model combines a structured curriculum of small business technical assistance with personalized mentoring and coaching to address the specific needs of each entrepreneur.  On average, only 28% of culinary incubator participants across the country are low income. 1 We believe this model can be scaled to support the Fort Myers community.

A restaurant incubator provides the physical space, along with other supports, to cultivate the growth of a spirited chef as they open their own place. Dotted throughout the country, like Chicago’s Intro and Smallman Galley in Pittsburg, these incubators offer an opportunity for chefs that may otherwise be locked out of owning their own businesses. Brooklyn FoodWorks, for example, was created to cultivate creativity with a distinctly Brooklyn flavor. The New York iteration of the incubator employs a panel of industry experts and advisors to move the talent beyond the kitchen door.

The food industry is growing

  • The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts food preparation to be one of the fastest growing occupational categories between 2014 and 2021. 2

    The food industry is accessible to low-income workers
  • The food industry is low-barrier in nature, and does not require significant formal education beyond a high school credential to build a successful business.
  • Due to the prevalence of restaurants in the Fort Myers River District, many low-income individuals have significant culinary employment experience.​

    Low-income entrepreneurs face funding challenges
  • Low-income entrepreneurs independently seeking loans face greater challenges than their higher socioeconomic peers in successfully receiving funding from traditional lenders. 3
     
  • If funded, low-income entrepreneurs often receive higher interest loans due to lower credit scores and limited ability to use business assets as collateral. They also have weaker support networks.
     
  • As an incubator, the largest costs for an operation of this sort is the startup costs for machinery and equipment.  The businesses utilizing our space will not have these costs.  They will be able to facilitate any cooking, baking or preparation needs within the facility.  We will also provide some light storage and commissary space for use by the business as well.

To learn more about our Restaurant Incubator program or to contribute financially, please see our Support Us page and click on the “Click Here” link in the Restaurant Incubator section of the page.

  

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