Food Hub: This network is ‘all about moving food’ | Environment

Table of Contents Three Rivers Farmer AllianceFresh Start FarmsFood ConnectsTaprootBuilding relationships During COVID, the Food

During COVID, the Food Hub provided the resources and connections for improved ‘shared infrastructure,’ including food storage and transportation. MARY MACDONALD, co-owner of Genuine Local in Meredith, says that the mission of her organization and others in the New Hampshire Food Hub is simple: to connect people with local food. She’s had customers tell her, “I didn’t know that farm was there, and it’s a mile from where I live!” Communication and cooperation are the focus of the New Hampshire Food Hub, an umbrella organization dedicated to bringing local food to everyone who wants it. Jessica Gorhan, project manager for the Food Hub, said that the organization studies “weaknesses and opportunities” for connecting people with the food they need. In the recent COVID-19 pandemic, they discovered that there was room for “shared infrastructure,” including food storage and transportation. They determined to make the most efficient use of the resources within the Hub. Genuine Local is a commercial kitchen made available to food producers in the Lakes Region, and many of their products are sold at the Belknap Food Shed. Macdonald said several outlets in Exeter feature products from the Belknap Food Shed, and deliveries are made from Meredith to Exeter. But Veggie Go, a Seacoast organization, has customers in the Lake Region. “We deliver to the Exeter area on Tuesday and Thursdays, and on the way back we pick up orders for the Belknap Food Shed,” she said. On other days, the van will pick up fresh food from the Kearsarge Food Hub in Bradford or the Public Market in Warner, and leave off items to be sold at those outlets. Some of the farmers who grow the food featured at the Food Sheds or Public Market also buy items to sell in their own farm stores, she added.

Three Rivers Farmer Alliance

The Three Rivers Farmer Alliance consists of four owners and three farms, all in eastern Rockingham County: Stout Oak Farm, Kate Donald; Heron Pond Farm, Greg Balog and Andre Cantelmo; and Meadow’s Mirth Farm, Josh Jennings. Evan Eppler is the operations manager for the coop, which delivers fresh local food to restaurants and private clients. The four farmers came together in 2014 with one station wagon, and now have five refrigerated box trucks, 25 staff and 50-plus farmers and other food producers. They started with restaurants, but in 2020, with the onset of COVID-19, did a “pivot” and created a direct-to-consumer home delivery service over two weeks. “It is,” Eppler said, “all about moving food.” While its clients are concerned about health and freshness, Three Rivers is also interested in food inequality and insecurity. They can’t accept SNAP cards for technical reasons, so they’ve created a donation program in which more comfortable clients can donate to SNAP recipients. They also purchase produce at cost and donate it to local food pantries, Eppler said.

Fresh Start Farms

Jameson Small works with Fresh Start Farms to get food to people who need it. “It’s like a year-round CSA,” he explained. A retail outlet recently opened in Manchester at 150 Spruce St. Small also works to reach everyone who wants fresh, healthy food, with half-off sales on Fridays. “We clean out the fridge, and are ready for next week,” he explained. Fresh Start Farms is also a support system for immigrant and refugee farmers participating in the New American Sustainable Agriculture Program, a project of the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success. Small explained, “We train immigrants, who were farmers back home, to adapt to farming in New Hampshire. We give technical assistance, marketing assistance, translation services.” The organization currently works with 24 farmers in the cities of Manchester and Concord, he said.

Food Connects

The Hub’s success has spread to the north and to the west, working with Food Connects in Brattleboro, Vt. McKenna Hayes, spokesperson for the organization, said that Food Connects does mostly wholesale distribution, and that while it’s Vermont-based, 20% of their farmers come from the Granite State. They have the infrastructure to move food, including trucks, freezers and a warehouse, she said. With the pandemic moving to the rear-view, Hayes noted that COVID-19 whetted a desire for fresh local food. “We’ve moved an incredible amount of food,” she said. “We had 37,000 sales in 2019, and 100,000 in 2020.” While they didn’t make big organizational changes, she said, they added staff, vehicles and another refrigerator.

Taproot

Melissa Grella represents Taproot, a Lancaster-based organization working with North Country farmers. They bring fresh seafood to the North Country, along with edibles such as Dunk’s Mushrooms out of Brentwood.

Building relationships

Their hopes for 2021 include more of the same. “I want to see us move more food, and keep building on these relationships,” Hayes said. “There’s been an uptick in interest in local food, and it is not a trend,” Eppler said. Small’s hopes are for the downtown market to do well, especially in his neighborhood. “Within our radius, 75 percent of our neighbors are SNAP-eligible,” he noted, adding that he’d like to see his new neighbors take advantage of the sales and discounts. And for Small the circle is complete, as he sees “his” farmers make a living while making a life. “One of our farmers,” he said, “just bought their first car, while another just bought their first house.” . For further information: • Three River Farmers Alliance, [email protected], (781) 999-1589 • Food Connects, [email protected], (802) 578-0125 • Fresh Start Farms, [email protected], [email protected] • Genuine Local, www.genuinelocal.org, 279-8600 • Taproot, www.taprootnh.org, 788-4183 • Jessica Gorhan, www.gorhanconsulting.com, 748-9532 • New Hampshire Food Alliance, Colleen Stewart, Communications Coordinator, [email protected]