augusta free press news

Pioneers in local food growing again

economic-forecast-headerSeven years ago an idea to bring more locally grown food to the people of Central Virginia took root in a unique business plan. Today, the Local Food Hub continues to serve thousands of consumers and is looking to grow again.

“When we started, we had a network of 10 growers and one delivery truck,” said Laura Brown, Local Food Hub director of communications and marketing. “Now we have more than 60 small family farms and 200 customers across Virginia and into D.C. and Maryland. It is amazing the amount of food we have in Virginia.”

Thousands of Virginia farmers raise local produce and meats, and most of them sell to the public through farmers’ markets, directly to restaurants, or use the Community Supported Agriculture business model where customers buy a share of the produce raised each year.

But larger customers like hospitals and schools need daily deliveries of fresh food all year long, and until the Local Food Hub, there wasn’t an efficient method of getting local foods to those customers. That’s why until recently most large food customers and restaurants still relied on national food service companies to collect and ship food supplies from all over the country.

The Food Hub works by aggregating supplies from a number of local growers to create its own regional food system. It offers fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen meats and poultry, eggs, honey, grains and more to its clients. Farmers who participate receive an average of 80 cents of each dollar.

The hub also purchases products outright and assumes responsibility for liability, traceability, marketing and sales, allowing the growers to focus on raising food. In addition to helping local growers succeed, the company also has a strong social mission.

Virginia has “a rural heritage we intend on preserving and helping our growers pass their land on to future generations,” Brown said. “Our goal is to get more people interested in growing and taking up farming as a career.

“We partner with local school systems, bringing farmers into the schools during national farm-to-school week. We have farmers that come into the cafeteria and help schools incorporate local foods into the schools’ menu. And we are also working with local low-income health clinics to offer a fruit and vegetable prescription plan to meet the needs of those who really need fresh, healthy, local food.”

Brown said the organization offers training for new growers. And they’re always looking for new opportunities to improve the availability of local foods to consumers. Thanks to the Food Hub and a student group, Greens to Grounds, the University of Virginia is offering a 100 percent local foods option to diners this fall.

Interested farmers should contact Brown.