Proposed food hub to be detailed at public meeting

by Mikel Livingston, Journal and Courier

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roy ballardPurdue Extension researchers will hold a public forum with farmers regarding a proposed virtual food network that will better connect farmers and consumers.

Called the Central Indiana Food Hub, the project is expected to create marketing opportunities for produce and other products from Indiana farmers.

The project began in summer 2011 and has been supported by two grants from the USDA.
Researchers out of Purdue Extension’s Hancock County office hope the virtual hub, which will match consumers with desired farm products, will be operational by spring with further growth opportunities to come in the near future.

Purdue extension specialist Roy Ballard spoke to the Journal & Courier about the project:

Question: What exactly is the food hub?

Answer: The big picture of the food hub is trying to find a way to make it easier for individual farmers to access bigger accounts, bigger markets. That’s not only individual consumers, but restaurants and wholesale markets. With individual farmers it can be difficult to do that. Working together has a lot of promise.

Q: How exactly will the food hub accomplish that?

A: I think the first step would be a virtual or online farmer’s market. We’ve received a grant from the USDA — we’ve received two grants ... and the second was to support an online food hub. We’ll be able to create an online platform where farmers can list whatever products, and consumers can then go in and select from their favorite farmers, in whatever quantities. They pay the bill, that product is then pulled from the farmer and goes to a central location. That probably will not go to directly to the (consumer’s) door but to a distribution point.

Q: Has this been done in the past, or is this the first of its kind?

A: It’s being done. Other examples are up and around the state, around the country for sure.

Q: Are you able to model this program after those successes?

A: Exactly. And this will be a farmer-owned delivery. That’s the only distinction.

Q: There was a study conducted over the summer. What’s the status of that and of the business plan in development?

A: The first grant ... was used for the feasibility study, to get out there and actually talk to farmers, assess their needs and desires regarding marketing. We’re now working on the business plan to follow up on the feasibility study. That will be completed before end of the year. The hope is the food hub ... will begin operation in spring of 2013.

Q: What can people expect to hear at the meeting, and why should they attend?

A: We want this to be a two-way dialogue. It’s a chance for us — by us I mean the food hub steering committee — to talk about what’s been decided so far, what’s our vision, what’s our plan? For farmers to tell us their thoughts. What have we not considered? To make sure we’re on the right track. I refer to it as a reality check. ... We’re not asking anyone to invest or sign up. It’s just a two-way discussion.