Coming in 2014?
A food hub in Mankato
What's a food hub?
A food hub is an organization/business that works with many small, local farmers to create a large-scale supply of fresh, healthy food.
- Our food hub will measure the demand for local food at institutions and among consumers within a 50-mile radius, then coordinate production with small farmers to satisfy that demand.
- Locally grown food is brought to a centralized facility and packaged into large, standard-sized quantities and sold to local institutions and restaurants.
- Food hubs also often sell local food directly to consumers through Community Supported Agriculture plans. (More about that below.)
- There are about 200 food hubs operating in the U.S. More than 100 have sprung up within the last five years as more and more people become interested in the benefits if local food.
Why is this important?
A food hub creates local jobs and is good for the local economy.
- Consider this: The next helping of vegetables you eat will likely have traveled 1,500 miles from field to plate. In fact, 16% of the vegetables consumed in the U.S. are imported from other countries; 44% of the fruit we eat is imported, too. That's highly inefficient, particularly in southern Minnesota where diversified food production is part of our culture.
- Currently, when our local schools, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and restaurants purchase food, the money typically flows to large corporations located far outside Minnesota's borders. Wouldn't it make sense to direct that money to local families working on small farms in south central Minnesota? Those are people who spend money in our communities, send kids to our schools, and pay taxes to support local and state government.
- A recent University of Wisconsin study found that money spent on local food circulates up to 2.6 times within the community.
- Local food also eliminates thousands of miles from the food chain.
- By not transporting food over such great distances, the demand for (and burning of) fossil fuels is reduced. That's important to people concerned about air pollution, or the effect of greenhouse gases on the climate.
- Local food is also typically grown using sustainable methods, meaning less impact on the food (and the environment) from chemicals.
- Local food typically keeps longer. It's fresh longer because it Is not maturing while being transported.
- Finally, lots of people just feel better knowing where their food comes from.
So, where does the food come from?
There are more than 80 small-farm families within a 50-mile radius of Mankato already producing food for local consumption (fruits, vegetables, meat). MVAC surveyed these families earlier this year, and found that:
- 50% do less than $25,000 a year in local food sales; another 17% do less than $50,000 a year.
- 89% are interested in selling food through a food hub.
- 94% said they would increase production to meet demand.
Will a food hub hurt our local farmers market?
Absolutely not! A food hub strengthens a local food network by providing an additional sales opportunity for small farmers.
- Most of these families are currently reporting less than $25,000 a year in local food sales.
- Most are already participating in farmers markets and making on-farm sales.
- The food hub will help them increase sales by making local food available to institutions and consumers who currently have difficulty accessing that food.
- None of these small farmers produce enough of a given food to satisfy demand at even a single institution.
- Institutional foodservice directors don't have time to establish their own network of local food producers and deal with a flurry of separate orders, invoices and shipments.
- Pooling production from many small farms, MVAC's food hub has the ability to satisfy institutional demand, and do so with a "one order, one shipment, one invoice" procedure.
- If anything, a food hub will make the vocation of growing local food even more attractive, leading to even more vendors at future farmers markets.
Is MVAC doing anything else with local food? How can I, as an individual, benefit?
What's a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) plan?
A CSA plan typically enables people who want a steady supply of fresh, healthy, locally grown food to purchase a "share" of a single farm's production. Subscribers receive a weekly box of whatever food is in season for the 16 to 18 weeks of the growing season.
- But whereas a typical CSA builds a community of supporters around a single farm, our food hub will build a network of farms capable of supporting the entire community. That means we'll supply our CSA subscribers with a large variety of produce from dozens of farms in the Mankato area.
- You'll be able to make additional purchases of locally grown fruit, eggs, beef, pork, poultry, and other products delivered right alongside your weekly CSA box.
Sounds great! How do I become a part of the CSA?
For now, just email Jim Gehrke
and let him know you're interested. He'll email you more information as details are finalized.
- CSA subscriptions will likely go on sale in January or February, and you'll have the option of making three or four monthly payments for your purchase.
- Home delivery of your CSA boxes will likely be available for a small additional charge. Otherwise, they'll be available for pickup in Mankato and other communities on certain dates and times.
Why is Minnesota Valley Action Council getting involved in local food?
As a Community Action Agency, MVAC's primary role is helping low-income families achieve economic stability.
- Since our inception nearly 50 years ago, we have delivered nearly $500 million in services to create opportunities for the people and communities in the nine counties of south central Minnesota.
- But since 2000, we've seen the incidence of poverty increase 72% in our nine counties.
At the same time, federal and state funding for the programs we deliver has decreased nearly 30% on a per capita basis.
- To fight that trend, MVAC has developed several social ventures (such as our two thrift stores) that have created eight full-time jobs and generated nearly $4 million in revenue during the last decade.
- MVAC's primary goals in launching the food hub are to create local jobs and provide an additional pillar of support for the local economy.
- As a non-profit, we aren't burdened by the necessity of providing an ever-increasing return on our investment. We can work in the best interests of both producers and consumers.
- The food hub needs to be self-sustaining, but any profits generated will simply be reinvested by MVAC to create additional opportunities that strengthen the communities in our nine counties.
So, this is a sure thing? This food hub will be operating in 2014?
Well ... probably. We've done a lot of work on this project, but there's more to do.
- MVAC already has the facility, complete with loading docks, at our new location at 706 N. Victory Drive in Mankato.
- Our business plan for the food hub was submitted to the Minnesota Cup competition, the largest state-wide entrepreneurial contest in the U.S. Out of nearly 1,100 entries, our business plan was chosen as one of 57 semi-finalists.
- We've continued to hone the plan by soliciting advice from local financial institutions, entrepreneurial development agencies, and successful local food operations elsewhere in the Midwest.
- We've only just begun talking to local institutions, but we already have two schools with about 5,000 students combined ready to become food hub customers.
- There are dozens and dozens of other potential customers to talk to.
- We've had some dialogue with our local small farmers, but we won't be able to have in-depth discussions with them until late fall. They're busy!
- There's lots of planning to do.
- There's the not-so-small question of financing the startup of the food hub. MVAC's board of directors has approved using agency funds to finance about 20% of the startup.
- We've written several grants that, if approved, will provide much of the rest.
- We'll also be applying to local foundations and businesses for grants and donations to help launch the food hub.
- As always, the biggest question is the financing. If that all comes together, we should have the green light for 2014.
What can I do to help?
Get in touch with Jim Gehrke
- Email us a brief note of support. If you're interested in being a CSA subscriber, let us know now.
- If you're involved with a local institution or organization that may be interested in becoming a food hub customer, let us know.
- If you'd like to make a donation to help make the food hub a reality, we'd be grateful for any help you can provide.