Niagara Gazette

October 21, 2013

WNY 'food hub' planning to get under way

Staff reports
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A Western New York-based “Ready to Grow Food Hub” planning project is getting under way.

The Field & Fork Network has received $175,000 funding from Farm Credit Northeast and the Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Fund to get a study going, according to co-founder and director Lisa Tucker.

The planning initiative will entail analysis of the market, agriculture production and infrastructure in a five-county region — Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming counties — to determine the feasibility of a food hub.

Food hubs are defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as businesses or organizations that manage the aggregation, distribution and marketing of source-identified food products, primarily from local and regional producers, to help get those products into the hands of regional wholesalers, retailers and institutions.

“Of the 7,500 farms that exist in Western New York, more than 88 percent are considered small farms. And many grow and raise outstanding agriculture products. Unfortunately, due to market constraints, these farmers have been left out of the wholesale market,” Tucker said. “We expect this project to address and eventually mitigate those market barriers for both farmers and for institutional buyers who want to source local products.”

Field & Fork Network will work with Chicago-based New Venture Advisors and Cornell University’s Harvest NY team to execute the food hub project. New Venture Advisors has worked on 13 food hub ventures across the United States since 2009. Harvest NY’s goal is to support new agricultural economic development opportunities in Western New York.

The planning project will have oversight from an advisory board composed of leaders and stakeholders in the local food and agriculture industry. Members are: Paul Bencal of Bencal Farms, Sanborn; Julie Blackman of Blackman Homestead Farm, Cambria; Nathan Rudgers from Farm Credit East; Diane Held from the American Farmland Trust and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County; Mark Roundtree, an Erie County planning department employee; Philip Gotwals of Agriculture & Community Development Services LLC; Eben Kennedy of Wegman’s Markets; and Carolyn Rosiek of Brant-based Farm This Way.

Field & Fork Network will host a public meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 30, at the Erie County Fire Training Academy, 3359 Broadway, Cheektowaga, to review the project and introduce the project team. For more information, contact Tucker at (716) 465-5704 or fieldandforknetwork@gmail.com.

Field & Fork Network is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help grow a regional food system in Western New York, by connecting consumers, food producers and food buyers in the eight-county region and encouraging support for sustainable agriculture.