Effort to site local food hub progresses

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison County Economic Development Corp. (ACEDC) has joined a growing effort to create a local food hub at which small-scale producers could process, store and market their wares. And the effort is gaining momentum, as organizers will be touring two potential food hub locations and have applied for grants to study the potential  creation, participation level and economic impact of an Addison County food hub.
It was last summer that the Addison County Relocalization Network (Acorn) confirmed its effort to site and develop a local food venture center. They reasoned such a facility would provide a launch pad for food producers who currently can’t afford their own production and storage facilities. Acorn has been building a coalition of supporters that now includes the ACEDC, the United Way of Addison County, and leaders in Middlebury, Bristol and Vergennes.
ACEDC Executive Director Fred Kenney sees his organization’s role as bringing the various food hub players together and serving as a fiscal agent and/or grant applicant for the project.
“Our main role is to organize economic development efforts that target as many people as possible in Addison County,” Kenney said. “We saw this idea as a way to impact not only farmers who are transitioning out of traditional dairy into more diverse markets like growing vegetable or raising meat, but also for folks who want to go from kitchen to commercial. It’s a big market for Addison County, and could have a lot of impact.”
He and ACEDC Finance Director Elizabeth Burdine have wasted no time.
They’ve applied for a $135,000 grant through the USDA’s Rural Development Program to finance feasibility and marketing studies for a local food hub. The USDA is requiring a $15,000 local match, which would bring the total resources to $150,000. The two studies would tell organizers who might participate in the food hub venture, how it could benefit customers, where it should be located and how it could be financed.
The ACEDC has also asked the “A Community Thrives” organization to help seek out potential foundation grants for the food hub.
Kenney expects to hear back on the USDA grant within a few weeks. He said the “A Community Thrives” process will play out toward the end of this year.
Burdine noted, however, that local food hub organizers are not placing all their funding hopes on the two sources. They’ve applied for other grants and are also looking into low-interest loan opportunities.
“We’ve decided to support this and we’ll do what is necessary to make it happen,” Burdine said.
Meanwhile, organizers continue to scan the county for possible food hub locations. Kenney is particularly intrigued by two possibilities:
• A portion of the former Connor Homes/Standard Register building at 1741 Route 7 south. Patrick Malone of Montpelier-based Malone Properties purchased the property for $1.13 million at a public auction this past March. Soon after the purchase, Malone announced plans to renovate the now-vacant, 116,000-square-foot building for lease to a single or multiple businesses looking to grow in Middlebury. Kenney believes the food hub might fit into the mix of ventures.
• The Addison Northwest School District’s former administrative headquarters at 48 Green St. in Vergennes. The building, owned by Jeff Nelson, was once home to Hannah’s Market.
“We’re not saying one or the other (site) is the best,” Kenney said of the two sites. “We’ll look at everything that becomes available.”
Burdine agreed.
“We’re not yet at the site-selection point by any means, but there’s a lot of interest in showing us pieces of real estate… ” she said.
Burdine has been doing a lot of research on food hubs functioning in other parts of the country, and ACEDC officials have toured some facilities in the New England area to get a feel for how they’re designed and operated.
Her research thus far indicates food hubs are growing in popularity and in proportion with a burgeoning local food movement. An increasing number of Americans are placing a premium on sourcing their food closer to where they reside, national statistics show. Both the Wallace Center and the USDA have developed much information about the food hub movement, and Burdine has tapped into those sources in the search for a template on how Addison County could set up its own facility.
The Wallace Center’s stated mission is to guide entrepreneurs and communities in building more modern, local and efficient food systems leads to a healthier population, environment and economy.
“We’re seeing many, many places follow through with this,” Burdine said.
Kenney sees the food hub as being about more than simply linking producers with a shared kitchen, processing and storage facilities. He believes there could be an educational component — perhaps in collaboration with the University of Vermont Extension System — to teach customers about food safety, labeling requirements for products, and how to negotiate state and federal regulations.
Supporters would also like the hub to offer grants and loans for producers to start — and grow — their operations.
On-site mentoring and small business-related services would also be helpful to food hub users, according to Kenney.
“Somebody walks in (the food hub), they know what they want to do, but they don’t know how to get there,” Kenney said. “A business ‘accelerator’ can walk them through all the steps… ”
Once clients get their products processed and ready for market, the food hub could assist them in quality assurance and getting transportation get their products to customers, according to organizers. If a single client doesn’t have enough product to affordably ship on a given day, the food hub could match that client with another food hub customer(s) to share space in a truck and split the costs, according to Kenney.
“These are some of the things we’re thinking about; the feasibility and marketing studies will tell us a lot more,” he said.
With adequate grant/loan support during the next five months, Kenney said the feasibility studies could be completed as soon as this winter with the potential for a food hub opening sometime next year.
But supporters stressed the food hub effort won’t fade if resources are lacking this year.
“Even if the grants don’t come through, we’re still looking to make something happen,” Kenney said, noting the ACEDC could offer a series of food hub-related workshops to keep the project in play.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

Share this story:

More News
US Probation Office Uncategorized

US Probation Office Request for Proposals

US Probation Office 2×1.5 062024 RFP

Middlebury American Legion Uncategorized

Middlebury American Legion Annual Meeting

Middlebury American Legion 062024 1×1.5 Annual Meeting

Sports Uncategorized

MAV girls’ lax nets two triumphs

The Mount Abraham-Vergennes cooperative girls’ lacrosse team moved over .500 with a pair o … (read more)

Share this story: