Mendo Lake Food Hub Helps Connect the Dots
In the past decade, hundreds of food hubs have sprung up around the United States in an effort to support small farmers meet the growing demand for local food, and build a more sustainable food system. A food hub actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing primarily from local producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.
Specifically, the Mendo Lake Food Hub is a project that is two years in to a three-year USDA Specialty Crop block grant which North Coast Opportunities (NCO) is administering. A specialty crop is defined as fruits, vegetables, herbs, tree nuts, honey, olives and olive oil, nursery plants, and cut flowers, in contrast to commodity crops like grains and soybeans.
The Hub aims to connect local wholesale buyers with local specialty crop farmers. “We want to re-create a system where there are creative endeavors and economic opportunities for everyone to engage in,” explains Mendo Lake Food Hub Coordinator John Bailey. “We also want to ensure there is enough local food to meet local demand.”
Using a web-based system, farmers upload the produce they have for sale, and buyers select from available crops. After receiving the order, farmers drop produce at the closest cold storage “node,” which are shipping containers converted into cold-storage structures. There are nodes in Willits and Ukiah, as well as a couple of on-farm cold storage locations in Lake County. Mendocino Coast Produce, a Fort Bragg-based distribution company, picks up the produce from the nodes and delivers to buyers. The Hub takes care of accounting tasks such as billing buyers, paying vendors, and running reports, and also provides free marketing and technical training to participating farmers.
The community has much more control and stability if there is local infrastructure to grow and distribute food, and everyone benefits from buying locally. Farms are small businesses, and business owners provide jobs. Dollars spent locally stay within the community instead of being shipped out of area to large corporate headquarters, which means more wealth circulates among community members.
“The Food Hub demonstrates a creative, local solution to the problems farmers have distributing their products in such a vast rural area,” said Ruthie King, Director of Operations at the Grange Farm School at Ridgewood Ranch.
To learn more and to sign up your organization go to www.mendolakefoodhub.com or call 707 467-3238.