Helpers get a look at kitchen work

The Organic Helpers were expecting a meeting, but got a field trip instead.

The group is working to create “a fair, local food system” in Chester County and has taken a keen interest in the commercial kitchen that is scheduled to be constructed in the new Chester Farmer’s Market in the old McKeown Building. Similar kitchen have spawned hundreds of jobs and small businesses in other areas, but for various reasons the project here has been stalled on a couple of occasions. Things are back on track now, with Chester City Council approving a bid for plumbing work on Monday night.

The Organic Helpers had a meeting scheduled with city leaders Wednesday afternoon, but a special called city council meeting conflicted with that. So instead, the Organic Helpers were given a tour of the area that will house the kitchen.

Chris McKeown, who is acting as a manager for the kitchen and helping to oversee the work being done on it, showed the group the progress that has been made so far.

“I’m sort of orchestrating things to help this get done,” he said.

The large stoves that will eventually be moved into the kitchen will actually be right in front of some large windows facing the street. A hand-washing station will be just to the right of the stoves. There will be a vegetable sink in the back corner of the room and a three-sink set-up near that for regular dish washing. Walk-in freezers and coolers were in the plans at one point, but reach-in coolers will be used now, which will save in terms of electricity costs.

Although little is actually in place yet, the Organic Helpers were enthused by the prospect of what is to come, with several of the members engaging in a group high five. Also looking on was Rhonda McMillan, the culinary arts instructor at The Chester County Career Center, and one of her students.

“I like for my students to be here and see this,” McMillan said.

McMillan said the kitchen will be an important tool for her students interested in pursuing a culinary career.

McKeown said there is still a lot of work to do. The plumbing work will be arduous, with thick cement having to be cut through and then repaired. It will be worth it, though.

“We’re going to have it DHEC approved and USDA approved,” McKeown said.

McKeown, who has a background in food service, is essentially a volunteer. He wants to see the project work because of the good it will do for the area and because his family’s name is on the building. He figures the kitchen should be ready by the end of the year. He will stay involved even after the completion of work, making sure the kitchen stays clean after use and promoting it to the public.