Food Hubs: Initiatives
Below is a summary our continued efforts to support and strengthen our local food system:
Access to Wholesale and Institutional Markets
Perhaps one of the most significant findings of our Food Hubs report was that the Hudson Valley would best improve local food distribution not by building a new, centralized food hub, but rather by supporting the businesses and organizations already working with local farms to tap the wholesale market. LEP has therefore supported two organizations thus far, Red Tomato and Greenmarket Co. These not-for-profit organizations have been expanding their relationships with Hudson Valley farmers over the past year to bring more local products to regional buyers in the retail, institutional, and food service sectors.
In addition to these distribution projects, LEP, along with the Goldman Family Foundation, has supported a new statewide coalition called Farm-to-Institution New York State (FINYS). Organized by the American Farmland Trust, FINYS aims to increase the amount of local food purchased by institutions, such as public schools, colleges, hospitals, and other outlets throughout the state. In their first year, they have already leveraged the support from us to secure a grant to begin an on-the-ground project with SUNY schools to increase their local procurement of fresh produce. By working with partners such as Red Tomato, Greenmarket Co., and FINYS, LEP will continue to provide food hubs around our region with the support they need to develop our local food value chain.
Certification and Training Programs
To complement these initiatives that connect our local farms to new market outlets, LEP is supporting other programming to prepare farms for the wholesale market. As our food hubs study revealed, there are many mid-sized farms that are not yet taking advantage of retail and institutional market opportunities because they lack food safety knowledge and certifications and would benefit from more information about post-harvest handling and packing for the wholesale market. To target these needs, LEP is partnering with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Eastern New York Horticulture Team on a new Hudson Valley Producer Wholesale Readiness Program. This two-year program begins in 2014 and will offer workshops around the Hudson Valley on Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), customized technical assistance to farms seeking GAPs certification, and training on post-harvest handling and packing for wholesale.
Farm Infrastructure and Financing
In addition to better connecting our local farms to the wholesale market, LEP is focused on systemic infrastructure needs to support our local food and farm economy. Although our food hubs report did not recommend building a centralized food hub in the Hudson Valley, there were a number of other infrastructure needs our research uncovered. More than 80 percent of Hudson Valley farms have on-farm infrastructure needs and there are several key product sectors, such as specialty dairy, meat, grains, and fresh cut produce that could grow with expanded processing capacity in the region. To fill these critical infrastructure gaps, we learned there is a need for matching local businesses to new sources of capital.
This past year, LEP began to explore in more depth the gaps in financing local food infrastructure. We commissioned a research project that included interviews with key stakeholders in the investment community, including banks, foundations, financing programs, and private investors. The findings are summarized in a white paper entitled Financing a Better Food System in the Hudson Valley, by Sarah Brannen and Karen Hiniker Simons. One of the key findings from the report is that many local food and farm businesses are not investment-ready and would benefit from business assistance. This finding echoes a similar one from our food hubs study, which is that most farms and local food businesses desire assistance with business planning. LEP is therefore supporting the Incubator Without Walls program at the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation. This program assists local businesses with a suite of technical assistance services.
To further address the gaps in local food system infrastructure, LEP will be exploring the creation of an innovative new program to begin deploying patient capital in the Hudson Valley. This program will actively be seeking investment opportunities to develop local infrastructure on farms and throughout the food system. We look forward to sharing more about this exciting new program in the coming months as it develops.
Promising Local Food Sector: Grains
Another project at LEP this past year focused on one of the four promising food sectors for the Hudson Valley: grains. As we learned during our food hubs research, there is a niche but growing market for small, local grains. Artisan bakers, farm breweries, and farm distilleries are seeking varieties of wheat, barley, rye, and ancient grains as the next frontier in the local food movement. LEP commissioned a research project last year to better understand the barriers to growing the grain sector in the Hudson Valley and potential strategies for addressing them. The research project culminated in a convening in August and a white paper entitled Reviving Grain in the Hudson Valley, by Sarah Brannen. As a result of the research and convening, LEP launched a new, three-year project at the Farm Hub with Cornell University, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and local grain producers to test grain varieties. The project will also work with local processors to test the flavor and usability of different grains that could be grown in our region. We hope this will be the first step in catalyzing growth in the local grain sector.
We thank our partner organizations for their invaluable input, and we look forward to continued collaborative endeavors.