- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: technical assistance
- Farm Business Management: feasibility study, market study, new enterprise development, value added
- Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, social capital, sustainability measures
The Greater Falls Food Hub project is a collaborative effort of Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA), Post-Oil Solutions (POS), area farmers, and the business community to develop and implement a community food project that responds to established regional needs and also meets the statewide objectives of the Vermont Regional Food Center Collaborative. The Greater Falls Food Hub would be a combination of infrastructure and programming that will provide locally produced food affordably to all people in the region while providing a fair return to area farmers. While much has been done in sectors of the food network of the region – such as expansion of farmers markets, nutrition education, connections between farms and food shelves and more – there is a void in the area of helping farmers produce value-added products cost effectively or work as direct suppliers to food entrepreneurs and expanding the accessibility to local healthy food for low income families. The proposed next stage of the Food Hub project will be to hire a coordinator to build on the planning work of POS and its many partners and to determine the feasibility of the proposed project through hands-on research, as well as explore previously undeveloped models of distribution to insure the likelihood of success. The coordinator would then develop a comprehensive plan to create the infrastructure, resources, partners, programs, and sustainability of a Community Food Hub. The infrastructure of the Hub itself would include a licensed, commercial shared-use food processing kitchen available for local farmers and small food-based business entrepreneurs using local farm products; packaging and storage facilities to allow the value-added products to be available all year long; and wholesale/retail distribution outlets. The operations would include specialized food business and entrepreneurial training and counseling in an incubator atmosphere, marketing and education for farmers, small business entrepreneurs, and consumers, and subsidized, well-promoted programs to provide fresh, healthy foods to schools and low-income families. Connecting local agriculture to the low-income community continues to be a major challenge. SEVCA will strive to develop a model through this project that can be replicated. The Food Hub project will develop a wraparound support network to strengthen and expand the connections between farmers, their products, and the consumer, with a particular emphasis on the needs of low-income households; and to subsidize the infrastructure and incubator supports needed for local farmers to process and sell their food at reasonable costs.
Project objectives from proposal:
The next step of the Food Hub project, with this additional funding, will be for SEVCA to hire a coordinator to build on the planning work of Post Oil Solutions and its many partners and establish the feasibility of the idea. The position would require a background in and knowledge of food systems, as well as project management and development. The coordinator, working within SEVCA’s Micro Business / Asset Development Program, would then develop a comprehensive plan to create the infrastructure, resources, partners, programs, and sustainability strategies for a Food Hub.
Included in the Coordinator’s scope of work would be to:
1) Conduct a feasibility and marketing study;
2) Develop program structure, including: organizing the team of volunteers, creating the Food Hub model, finalizing the business plan, researching potential facility locations, identifying an anchor tenant and researching marketing opportunities;
3) Coordinate with nutrition and healthy lifestyle programs (e.g., Meeting Waters YMCA – Fit and Healthy Kids Coalition and the So. VT Area Health Education Center’s Physical Activity & Nutrition (PAN) Consortium) ;
4) Establish partnerships, identify resources, and develop subsidies to realize the Food Hub’s goal to provide healthy locally grown foods affordably to families of all incomes; and 5) Create a comprehensive long-term sustainability plan.
The first stages of determining feasibility are especially important, and would include: identifying participants / farmers that can produce marketable products; creating a methodology, developing content and conducting a survey of their needs; identifying barriers to their success/expansion; identifying specific infrastructures and technical assistance that best suit those needs; determining needs and appropriate scale for storage space; and a survey to determine the ways that collaborators might utilize or contribute to a regional food center and commercial processing center / community kitchen. The coordinator will also conduct research to determine: the consumer and regional commercial demand for local / Vermont made food, the region’s capacity to meet the demand to produce for local and regional markets, current capacity for food distribution, and new models for distribution to best facilitate the flow of these locally made products regionally and beyond. Issues needing to be addressed include access, transportation, and affordability.
Research will entail consultation with industry sources and on-site examination of other food center community kitchen and retail facilities and programs, as well as comprehensive data gathering from relevant trade, marketing, business, and government sources. Such information would launch the next stage of researching and identifying an appropriate location, and identifying a possible anchor tenant once the likelihood of sustainability is established.
The proposed project will have measurable short, middle and long-term outcomes. The short-term outcomes are reflected in the goals and timeline attached that will result in the achievement of the research and planning goals for which we are requesting this funding; i.e., determining the Food Hub’s feasibility, developing the program structure, finding a suitable location, establishing needed partnerships, securing additional funding, and creating a long-term sustainability plan.
The middle-term outcomes relate to our ability to successfully execute the project plan and establish the Food Hub facility and its various programs and services, as outlined in the above paragraph. The long-term outcomes and their impact on the target population will be measured by the extent that the identified needs are met, including: the accessibility and affordability of healthy, locally-produced food; sustaining and enhancing the value of local farm / food production businesses; effective locally-based school food programs; and expanded consumer knowledge about healthy food and nutrition; and the creation of long-term sustainability.
Long-term goals that have already been identified include:
1) Of 105 farms and potential producers in this region, 30 will utilize the facility in some fashion in the first 2 years;
2) Within 5 years, 50 specialty food producers / farmers will be using the processing facility and support services to expand their businesses with value-added products; and
3) 20 new jobs will be created (5 on-site and 15 through expanded businesses processing their products).
SEVCA will assess the impact and success of this project in accordance with its capacity to continue, expand and sustain this effort through development grants, municipal support, in-kind services, fundraising and project-related income.