Nonprofits Help Farmers Bring Food to Schools

There are a few hundred food hubs in the U.S., and their number is increasing. A food hub is something like an aggregator, forwarder and expeditor, both a facility and a service provider that has the tools, equipment, space, and marketing expertise to allow small farmers to reach new buyers. Food hubs enable wholesalers to meet regulatory standards for preparing and storing their produce for new markets.

A farmer can easily sell her apples or blueberries or corn at the farm in a simple farm stand. But to sell to schools, hospitals, or places like corporate lunchrooms, food safety laws are tougher and compliance is strictly monitored. Rules for washing, culling, processing, and storing are mandatory, and even good-sized farms don’t always have the equipment and facilities to allow them to meet these important regulatory standards.

Enter food hubs—places that can serve many small farmers from a single site. The Good Acre is a great example. It is a fully equipped 4,700-square-foot warehouse, with two loading docks, produce washing equipment, and large worktables. The building also houses cold-storage rooms and a 5,000-cubic-foot freezer, all available for farmers to rent by the pallet. Its safety-compliant, certified-organic commercial kitchen is available by the hour for making prepared foods from fresh produce, like salsa or jam. A spacious, sunny meeting room is used for training and workshops. The demonstration garden helps small farmers explore the possibilities of new crops and observe new practices. And a robust marketing and community engagement program brings cooks, farmers, families, and food service workers to the hub for everything from vocational education and farmer training programs to evening cooking classes.

The Good Acre sells local produce to 20 school districts. Schools can participate in training at the Good Acres kitchens, get recipe ideas for using in-season produce, and learn about the farmers involved so students know where their food is coming from. This represents significant growth over last year, when the program reached 14 school districts. Last year, the Good Acre sold schools 90,000 pounds of fresh local food, putting more dollars into farmers’ pockets, and serving nutritious, fresh food to children.

Read more about Good Acre in Sarah’s September article in Twin Cities Business.