MANKATO — If grants come through, Minnesota Valley Action Council will be establishing a food hub at its new facility on Victory Drive as early as next summer.
The food hub would work with numerous small farmers in southern Minnesota, purchasing their produce, eggs and meats, among other things — creating a large-scale supply of food. The hub would then sell the food to hospitals, public schools, colleges and restaurants, said Jim Gehrke, awareness coordinator.
“The food hub concept itself is something that’s growing by leaps and bounds nationally,” Gehrke said, adding that of the 200 in the U.S., only 15 have been in existence for more than 20 years and 100 have sprung up in the last five years.
The reasons are multi-faceted. For one, it makes locally grown food available to local people. Many institutions currently are spending money on food that is coming from well outside the region, Gehrke said.
“In the Midwest, when we eat a serving of vegetables, (they likely) have traveled 1,500 miles from the field to the plate,” Gehrke said. “That just doesn’t make sense in an area like south-central Minnesota.”
The hub also will eventually serve as a fundraising tool for MVAC once it’s established and will create jobs, Gehrke said.
He said locally grown food has become in demand in recent years. Farmers markets have tripled in the last decade. Schools and hospitals don’t have the resources to build a network of small farmers to produce enough food collectively to meet their demands — or to coordinate shipments and handle the bookwork — which is why food hubs act as go-betweens.
The hub would be housed at the 60,000-square-foot MVAC facility, which is equipped with loading docks for food shipments. Start-up costs would be about $280,000, which would include initial food purchases, refrigerators, a refrigerated truck, food-handling equipment, marketing costs and cash flow.