Archive for Thursday, September 26, 2013

Efforts to build local food hub in Douglas County gaining traction

September 26, 2013


Lawrence and Douglas County officials are intensifying their efforts to create a unique distribution center or "food hub" here that would handle fruits, vegetables and grains grown by farmers in a 16-county region.

Three local elected officials traveled to Memphis, Tenn., last week to participate in an invitation-only workshop designed to bring together communities that have strong potential to make locally grown food a significant part of their economies.

"What I learned is that the ideas we have here are not far-out concepts," said City Commissioner Bob Schumm. "They are taking hold elsewhere."

Douglas County officials have received a $68,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Kansas Health Foundation to study the feasibility of the project. County Commissioners on Wednesday agreed to hire Scale Inc. to complete a study in the next several months examining the potential number of farmers, crops and consumers that a regional food hub could support.

"What we heard at this workshop is we don't have a lot of the same barriers that a lot of these big cities have," said Eileen Horn, the city and county's sustainability coordinator. "A lot of these big cities are having a hard time finding land. We have a real strategic advantage in that we are very close to very talented food producers."

Horn said the ultimate goal of a food hub is two pronged: increase the availability of local foods to everyone in the region and serve as a catalyst for the creation of new small businesses in the agricultural sector.

Exactly what a food hub would look like is uncertain. The Douglas County delegation heard about urban food hubs that include upscale kitchens, year-round farmers markets and condo developments. They also heard about more rural facilities that are connected to community farms and feature facilities to make fresh salsa or other products that can be bottled and sold locally.

The Douglas County delegation that attended the workshop, held by the Institute for Sustainable Communities, included Schumm, Horn, Mayor Mike Dever, Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman, Douglas County Food Policy Council Chairman Boog Highberger and Hugh Carter, a chamber of commerce executive and a member of the food council.

City and county leaders were invited to the workshop in part because of the success of the city's Common Ground program through which the city provides low cost leases to growers to use vacant land that the city owns. Currently, seven acres of farmland are in production. Last year, the program featured 42 growers.

"We have been getting quite a bit of national attention for the program," Horn said.


Jennifer Dropkin 4 years, 7 months ago

Excellent idea. The establishment of licensed community kitchens associated with the food hub and available for public use would go a long way to helping a food hub be part of growing small local businesses using locally sourced food and talents.

redfred 4 years, 7 months ago

All of the "truck farmers" that I've talked to do not want the food hub. They feel that it will lower the price they get for their product.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

Next the taxpayers will be asked to build warehouses for the real estate industry. Instead of placing a long term moratorium preventing development on the precious farmland that Douglas County happens to be sitting.

Eileen Horn should be the primary decision maker regarding the use of farmland in Douglas County. Eileen Horn is uniquely qualified. If Lawrence is to become a hub it's time to pursue chemical free farming on all existing farmland. The more locally grown the less contribution to air pollution thus climate change.

insidR 4 years, 7 months ago

I suspect the "truck farmers" you talked to don't have very good information on the food hub since, as the article points out, it doesn't exist yet. Not sure why they would be opposed to it. Other growers in the region who have looked at how this has worked in other areas of the country have been encouraged. In areas that have such systems in place it has vastly increased the markets for the growers, provided economies of scale for storage, packaging,processing,transportation, etc. and has made them more profitable. Tell your truck farmer friends to get involved in the process now, during the planning stage, and get informed. Eileen would be a great place to start. They may see there's a lot of potential benefits for them, as these types of programs are developed to encourage and support this type of local grower

blindrabbit 4 years, 7 months ago

Truck farms in this part of the country are in their infancy compared to those on either coast. Having lived on both coasts and growing up in California where farming is monumental. California's agricultural value is almost double the next closest state (Texas), Kansas was 6th or 7th. But the real surprise to me, and admit I am biased, was the "Garden State" of New Jersey. Most of the farming there is done in the southern counties east and south of Philadelphia, where real truck farms abound. There, rather than having only the in-town "Farmers Markets" there are many on-farm markets where you can purchase small quantities, but inexpensive bushel quantities of peaches, pear, tomatoes, peppers etc. New Jersey is blessed (not really) but much of the State has productive soil very much like that found North Lawrence. The other factor in encouraging farming there was the Campbell Soup and canning operation headquartered there.

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