In 1998, Cornell University launched a hydroponic greenhouse to explore the possibility of using controlled-environment agriculture to grow crops year-round in the state of New York. By 2006, Cornell decided to end its foray into hydroponics and sold the greenhouse to Challenge Workforce Solutions, an Ithaca-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities or other employment barriers find jobs.
Challenge Workforce Solutions has since developed Finger Lakes Fresh, a thriving local agriculture business in Ithaca, New York. The business is centered on hydroponic greenhouse production and a soon-to-be launched food hub. According to General Manager Steven Holzbaur, Finger Lakes Fresh is one of the most productive hydroponic leafy-green producers in the country and has been highly successful in marketing its product.
The recently established DROPP, Distributors of Regional & Organic Produce and Products, is a side project for the Great Basin Community Food Cooperative in Reno, Nevada. The food cooperative came into existence in 2005 under a buyer’s club model. Although the food coop is still going strong, DROPP is an effort to improve the infrastructure between the informed consumer and the sustainable grower and is best described as a food hub where farmer and fork collide.
“As we were building new relationships with local farmers we started sending out local availability lists to restaurants and members of our coop just saying ‘this farm has this and this farm has that.’
A lot of farmers will tell you that the food grown through sustainable agriculture is only part of the equation. Creating infrastructure for small growers through food hubs, incorporating marketing and educational materials for customers and overhauling the perception of organic food in the United States are all essential parts of a successful food evolution. Indeed, there’s more to food hubs than just food. Just ask Kristen Suokko of Local Food Hub in Charlottesville, VA.
“We see Local Food Hubs nationally having impacts on a range of interrelated issues: food security, food safety (knowing where the food comes from), local economic vitality, land stewardship, and public health,” shares Suokko.
Detroit’s Eastern Market, the only remaining of three markets which once served the City of Detroit, was the site of the Michigan Food Hub Network’s statewide meeting on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. The meeting took place in the historic Detroit Eastern Market’s Shed 3, where over 200 people from all areas of the food world came to connect with and learn about funding resources, technical assistance programs, and to make connections. In attendance were farmers, institutional food service professionals, food processors and distributors, academics, and small independent grocers.
John Clark grew up on his father’s dairy farm – Applecheek Farm of Hyde Park, Vermont – and began working on the farm full-time in 2005. Clark purchased the farm from his father three months ago, and is already diversifying and reengineering the operation. Applecheek Farm raises all kinds of livestock, from hogs to cows, while providing education and agricultural tourism. Clark focuses on sustainability and simplicity on the farm with big dreams for the future of his local food community.
I recently spoke with Clark about how the farm began, the sustainable practices that he uses and his future goals for a food hub on the farm.
Working with Farmers in the Middle, Northeast Foodhub Strengthens Local Food System via Produce AggregationJuly 10, 2013 | Pamela Ellgen
When shoppers pick up a head of locally-grown kale at the grocery store, they’re often perplexed to find that it costs more than what looks like the identical product trucked in from miles away.
“The consumer feedback is ‘Why isn’t it less expensive?’” says Laura Edwards Orr, director of Resource Development for Red Tomato. “It’s one of the great paradoxes—it’s so much more complicated. What the consumer doesn’t see is that the local farmer paid for a truck for the entire day, whereas larger growers can spread the cost of logistics over much larger volume. Logistics and cost are the key barriers in the local food chain.”
Jennifer Piette said the idea for her Out of the Box Collective was born from the European food culture in which she lived for more than 20 years, working as a screenwriter and film producer.
“Where I lived (in France, Portugal and England), there were fresh markets right around the corner,” Piette said. “You cooked. Here in America, we have a completely different relationship with our food.”
Piette was referring to modern-day proclivities for processed and packaged meals (Piette calls it “phony food”), and produce and meat sourced from factory farms. The volume is impressive, but the quality dubious.
The demand for local food continues to grow, often faster than small growers and infrastructure can keep up. That’s why the work of the Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC) is vital in connecting small farmers to big business in Northwest Washington State.
Founded in 2006, NABC is the brainchild of a group of farmers and politicians who noticed a gap in the small business assistance market. Independent growers running small farms are first and foremost farmers. Brand development, marketing, establishing a customer base and utilizing accounting technology are often unfamiliar and time consuming aspects of the small farm business. NABC provides assistance in these and other areas helping to keep small farms viable.