What If...Part 2
Jon Ramsay, executive director of the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) in Hardwick gave a presentation at the JCC on February 20 in Part 2 of “A Food Hub in Jericho...What If”.
Jon’s talk was animated, and his enthusiasm well deserved as CAE is a multi-faceted food hub that’s made quite an impact on food resiliency in Hardwick and across the state. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the nonprofit, which currently employs 31 people.
Jon began by acknowledging the confusion around what a food hub actually is, due to the wide range of food hubs out there. CAE for example, runs several food hub enterprises: 1-Farm Connex, a truck delivery service, that Jericho Settlers and numerous other large and small farms in Vermont utilize; 2- Just Cut, which processes produce and delivers it to schools, hospitals and institutions around the state; 3-The Food Venture Center, which includes a commercial kitchen, communal dry and wet storage (half of the FVC is rented to their anchor tenant, Jasper Hill Cheese).
CAE oversees several community programs in Hardwick which include:
-Grow Your Own, hosting monthly skill-sharing workshops; as Jon says, “bringing the community together around food...people can share the awesome skills they have”. CAE owns 15 acres in which they oversee a community orchard, farmers market, community gardens and hoop houses, as well as a pavilion for hosting community events.
-Produce to Pantries targets small produce growers in Hardwick, creating a supply chain with minimal overhead while supplying food to people in need.
-CAE also runs a place-based education program, whose coordinator has set up a program at the local high school called ‘Recipe for Human Connection’. Here, students are encouraged to lead a variety of activities; gleaning at a local farm and making a community meal, or helping out at the elementary school’s community garden for example. Building leadership skills while supporting local food resiliency- a win-win!
Comments from the 15 or so of us in the audience were indicators of specific concerns and needs in our locale. Laurel Shelmandine formerly of “It’s Arthur’s Fault”, said that supporting a food business in a home kitchen simply isn’t financially feasible; Ben Danowitz said he would love to start a small farm in Jericho and expressed frustration over zoning laws that preclude his living on the farm, thus making it affordable; Chris Simms commented that there are so many food hub models provided by CAE; we need to find which model(s) address the specific needs of our community.
Catch the entire February 20th presentation here: https://archive.org/details/jericho-food-hub-02202023
A Jericho Food Hub...What If?
Gearing up for the March 7 Town Meeting when TTJ is presenting a proposition around developing a food hub in Jericho as well as a new Food Commission to make it happen. Meanwhile, we’re hosting two community wide discussions around “A Food Hub in Jericho...What If?”
I missed the first of meeting on January 30 (yes, battling covid!) but I watched the recording, filmed by Angelike Contis at MMC-TV. It’s quite informative with a real can-do spirit; a great resource for any group exploring food hubs. I’ll report some highlights here and urge you to check out the recording: https://archive.org/details/transition-town-jericho-food-hub-01302023
The meeting on January 30 was a panel-discussion at the Jericho Community Center and about 25 people showed up. Joanna Weinstock,organizer with the food shelf at Good Shepherd Church in Jericho was the first panelist. She shared some surprising statistics on how the pandemic increased the numbers of food-needy people in the area. Since pre-pandemic 2019, there has been a 44% increase in the number of clients. The food shelf used to average 43 families per month; now it’s 62 families. It serves Jericho and nearby towns, though nowadays people come from all over including Burlington, Starksboro, etc.
Christa Alexander, co-owner of Jericho Settlers Farm already works with a couple existing food hubs (Intervale in Burlington and CAE in Hardwick). With 200 acres including two acres of hoop houses and greenhouses for year-round CSAS, they’re considered a medium to large farm for the area. While losing most of their restaurant contracts during the pandemic, their CSA shares increased from 150 to 300. Christa said they share the same goals as farm hubs around the state- how to make it easier for people to access local food.
Sabina Ernst, serving on both Jericho’s Planning and Conservation Commissions said this could be good timing for initiating a Food Hub as the Ten-Year Town Plan for Jericho is being updated, and could include language around a Food Hub. Jericho still has a lot of open space that should be conserved for farming; she mentioned an agriculture subcommittee of the PC that’s working on that. Sabina is informed by having worked at an Edible Schoolyard years ago, believing that it all starts with kids; even just cooking with vegetables is a forgotten skill for many, she said.
Joanna Doren is the local foods access coordinator at NOFA and was an important voice at last winter’s NOFA conference panel-discussion, “Building Food Sovereignty in Jericho”. She sees many advantages to food hubs, from people getting to know their local farmers, to sharing resources via a facility that offers processing and storage capability. She talked about a local food hub’s potential to “decentralize the labor and centralize the infrastructure.”
Lindsey Berk is the executive director of ACORN Food Hub in Addison County. The pandemic helped us see the dangers of a globalized food system, she said and while ACORN tried to start a food hub in 2012, the pandemic is what got it off the ground, starting initially with an online market. She sees the six current food hubs in the state as unique from one another and stressed the importance of responding to what the community needs. Lindsey supported the idea of TTJ’s proposed Food Commission, saying it could be the first of its kind.
Comments from the audience were supportive of the food hub idea, ranging from sheer excitement about the possibilities, to frustrations with the current lack of farmers at the Jericho Farmers Market to difficulties of supporting a family with the skyrocketing price of good, healthy food.