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What Services Should our Local Food Center Offer?
In our last meeting, the group suggested that we needed to be thinking about more than just a processing center, if we really want to get the community engaged. Suggestions included: cooking classes, retail shop, commissary, bakery, café, test kitchen for local restaurants, food truck, mobile butchering or cheese-making facility. What do you think of these ideas? What other ideas would you like to suggest we consider?
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All of the above are good, but we may have to do a survey to determine farmer and community/user demand.
I'd say those top 3 might be
- 1) minimal processing (washing, peeling, cutting, bagging, storing) of produce
- 2) more significant value-added processing (making jams, salsas, pestos, etc)
- 3) a "front of the house" community space that will host various educational activities from food safety training to cooking classes.
I'd love to also see a bakery and cafe in the front of the house, but the viability of such a feature will depend on the facility's location, location, location.
Once we decide on the top 3 (or 5) needs of the farmers and larger community, we should do a feasibility study and business plan on those.
Here is a good article for further ideas of how a processing facility can work to boost local food production and consumption.
Take a look at the services provided by LOCAL FOOD HUB in Charlottesville, VA. What do you think?
Planning Support for Growers: At the beginning of each season, representatives from the Local Food Hub will hold meetings with buyers and growers. From these meetings, the Local Food Hub will develop a record of buyer demand, which will inform grower planting and pricing requirements. This guidance will help small farmers develop a working business model.
Food System Networking: The Local Food Hub will compile a database of organizations and citizens involved in food system issues. We will facilitate community connections in order to accomplish concrete local food system goals by organizing the wealth of our citizens' knowledge and enthusiasm for local food. The Local Food Hub will work with local professionals and small farmers to develop sustainable business plans.
Rentable Refrigeration & Freezer Storage Space: There is great demand from farmers and institutions to store additional product that they do not have space for in their facilities. This will help enable volume purchasing and year-round product availability. We will also explore the feasibility of offering an outfitted meat-curing storage unit in order to support value-added cured meat production.
Liability and Trace-ability Coverage: The Local Food Hub will comply with food safety regulations and therefore offer insurance coverage and clear trace-ability that many small farmers find too expensive.
Delivery and Consolidation Services: The Local Food Hub will have a refrigerated truck that picks up from farmers at central locations in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. Hub staff will consolidate products and food donations and deliver to buyers and charitable organizations, saving farmers the time and gas it takes to deliver to many small accounts, while at the same time addressing the volume requirements from larger buyers.
Processing Facilities (Phase 2): Any acceptable produce that cannot be sold fresh will have the capacity to be preserved through basic cooking or freezing. This will increase the yield potential on farms and get more locally grown food into the food system. With the growth of this organization we will add a canning, bottling and labeling line to provide full co-packing services
I think all of these are excellent, and needed here in central IL -- pretty much in the order listed in terms of priorities. I think we have already taken some steps toward the first two items, and probably need to incorporate fairly soon to move forward on the others.
As for the Delivery/Consolidation services, we should get in contact with Irv Cernauskas, who I believe is heading up the IL Food Farms Jobs Council's committee on infrastructure. He got a USDA grant for his company (Fresh Picks) to work with others on the aggregation/distribution aspect of local food, esp getting it up into Chicago.
Just to throw it out there...it'd be nice to have a grain processing situation...
Grind up corn for masa, all kinds of flours, etc...offer it for individuals/businesses as well as maybe sell some of its own...Kind of fits in with the processing wing.
For what it's worth.