The USDA defines a food hub as "a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.”
Agribusiness incubators offer market opportunities to growers, and fresh locally-produced food to consumers. Here in PA, Sec. Russell Redding of the PADA is also stressing the importance of food hubs for their workforce development importance. At the kickoff event July 18th, project lead Bob Junk stated that this large grant will allow them to continue supporting 50 existing businesses, add 10 new businesses, and create 100 new jobs in the region.
Republic Food Enterprise Center in, not surprisingly, Enterprise, PA (Fayette County), recently received a $1.75m grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission's POWER funding program to develop POWER initiative to develop the Southwestern Pennsylvania Local Food Shed, a food hub in the southwestern PA region, including neighboring counties in western Maryland and nearby West Virginia. The project will focus on four areas: sheep, lamb, and goats; poultry; specialty crops; and value-added processing.
Republic's model currently includes farmers' markets, an on-site store, CSA, and educational offerings. With grant funds, and through partnership with the USDA and and PADA and Fayette Community Action, Republic will continue to offer their fully licensed commercial kitchen for rent to local entrepreneurs. In the plans for the future are a training program in conjunction with California University of PA. Seed funding for new businesses may be a part of the plan as well. See a list of Republic's current partners here.
The USDA lists 13 food hubs in Pennsylvania, but most are in the central or eastern part of the state. Business incubators are becoming more commonplace in western PA, particularly around Pittsburgh, and an arts incubator was established earlier this year in Greensburg. Incubators help small farmers make the field-to-table connection and in a cost-effective way, providing the infrastructure at a nominal cost to cook, package, and sell their products without the investment of building or purchasing a facility to do so. A group in Allegheny is currently working on their own Veteran farming marketing opportunity which we expect to complement what Republic is developing.
As specifics for Republic's project emerge we'll be watching for opportunities to ensure that our Veterans are at the table. Please stay tuned.