local food systems
Food hubs are financially viable forces for good in their communities providing locally grown to institutions, wholesale buyers, grocery stores, restaurants and other retail outlets. They also offer much needed infrastructure, aggregation, and marketing to enable small and mid-sized farms to achieve and maintain economic sustainability.
These conclusions were among the results of the 2015 National Food Hub Survey of more than 150 food hubs across the U.S. The report was released on May 12 by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. Seedstock recently spoke with the center’s director, Rich Pirog, to learn more about the report’s findings and the future of food hubs.
Growing up in the corn and soy fields of rural Indiana, Andy Schwartz has seen first-hand what large-scale farming can do to soil quality. But it wasn’t until he managed farms of his own and made his own compost that Schwartz realized the role large-scale composting could play in keeping the quality of soil high and protecting the environment.
“When I made enough compost for myself and the food waste kept coming in I realized that I had to come up with a plan,” he says. “The plan was and is to keep valuable organic materials out of the landfill and use them to create a healthy growing medium for plants. Heirloom tomatoes and peppers from my garden are a much better outcome for food waste than producing methane gases and harmful leachates in a landfill.”
Determined to “feed the food that feeds you,” Schwartz studied successful composting projects around the country and launched Grow.Eat.Repeat, a compost pick-up company in Savannah, Georgia. With more than 300 restaurants, 100 hotels, and 50-plus schools in the city, Schwartz had no trouble identifying his primary market.
A public school district in Southern California is enhancing its curriculum with an interactive learning center known as “Farm Lab.”
The Encinitas Union School District is rolling out the mixed-use educational space on a donated 10-acre plot of land in the prominent horticultural hub of Encinitas, California. Central to the plan is a roughly five acre educational garden that will produce fresh organic produce for the district’s school lunch program. The lunch garden will eventually be complemented by a nutrition lab, a science lab, a maker’s lab for visiting students, an educational space for local organizations, a one acre community garden, and a one acre hands-on educational garden. The site is also bordered by a food forest that will be used to grow other organic produce for the community.
Farm Lab has been in the “pilot phase” since the end of the 2014-2015 school year and has so far leveraged its space as a tool for offering hands-on lessons and experiential learning to students at all nine elementary schools in EUSD. Farm Lab Director Mim Michelove says Farm Lab is using a “D.R.E.A.M.S.” approach to education that focuses lessons on Design, Research, Engineering, Arts, Math, and Science. The hope is that students can spend an entire day in a centralized location and experience a variety of educational activities that require more time than typical classroom lessons.
The Grove, a diversified and certified-organic family farm in Riverside, CA used to grow only citrus fruit and avocados. But in order to survive a changing market, it has diversified to include a wide array of organic produce.
Hassan Ghamlouch and his wife, Deborah, have operated The Grove for more than 13 years. Their sons Zachary and Jacob are also key contributors to the operation.
The farm has been in the family for four generations, dating back to the late nineteenth century when it primarily produced navel oranges. When Deborah’s parents wanted to sell the farm in the early 2000s, she and Hassan decided to purchase it and take over. They based their decision partly on the fact that The Grove’s orange trees are part of the original rootstock planted well over 100 years ago.
But Hassan and Deborah knew that if they wanted to keep the farm in their family, drastic changes were inevitable and necessary.
While citrus groves no longer dot the landscape, trees in backyards across Orange County, CA still yield an abundance of produce that sadly often goes to waste. But thanks to the efforts of the Harvest Club of Orange County, a volunteer-based organization that gleans fruit from neighborhood trees, much of this excess backyard bounty now goes to help feed the hungry.
The gleaning operation started informally in Huntington Beach.
“In 2009 a couple of friends had fruit trees they could not finish,” says Lindsey Harrison, coordinator of volunteers for the Harvest Club. “Others helped pick trees and donated extra fruit to the food bank.”
More and more neighbors got on board and as word spread, the organization began to grow and solidify. In 2011 the Harvest Club became a project of the Orange County Food Access Coalition (OCFAC). By this time Harvest Club’s coverage area had already expanded beyond its Huntington Beach roots, but the new association with OCFAC served to further boost its countywide presence.
Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is dedicated to serving its patients, staff, and visitors the best food Iowa has to offer. And thanks to a few handfuls of local, Iowa farms, the hospital has been able to maintain that standard.
One of the companies that helps Mercy Medical obtain fresh produce and goods is Iowa Choice Harvest. The Marshalltown, Iowa company has partnered with the hospital since 2015. It is dedicated to helping farms across Iowa find customers and co-processes and co-packs for existing and start-up businesses in the Midwest.
“We began planning in 2006 and began production in 2013,” says Sung Hee Grittmann, sales coordinator for Iowa Choice Harvest. “Iowa Choice Harvest is the brainchild of an innovative group of farmers who are passionate about establishing a viable local food system while simultaneously supporting Iowa farmers and creating new economies.
Who better to put in charge of creating healthy school lunch menu options than the students themselves? It might sound crazy to some, but eager high school students in Orange County, California are taking on this challenge by participating in Cooking Up Change, an annual national culinary competition in which teams of student chefs strive to concoct healthy and delicious school meals.
The program is part of the Healthy Schools Campaign and winning high school teams qualify for the national contest in Washington, D.C.
In Orange County, the program is managed by Kid Healthy, an organization that focuses on reducing childhood obesity and promoting healthy diets.
School meals consumed by the 732,833 students enrolled at 1,274 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District will soon include chicken that is free of hormones and antibiotics.
In a vote on March 8, LAUSD became the nation’s first school district of its size to require hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken. Full changes will take effect in fall 2017.
This change was born from the District’s Good Food Procurement resolution, spearheaded by school board president Steve Zimmer. The resolution states that LAUSD put into practice Good Food Purchasing Guidelines as defined by the LA Food Policy Council. These guidelines stress the values of local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare, and nutrition.
LA Food Policy Council’s environmental sustainability standard specifically calls for the avoidance of hormones and antibiotics in meat.
Due to LAUSD’s size and influence, it expects this new approach to have national implications. Indeed, the resolution reads: “Thoughtful purchasing practices throughout the District can nationally impact the creation and availability of a local, sustainable good food system.”