Extension educator directs Grand Traverse food hub initiative

The interest in fresh, locally grown food has created a demand that many small and mid-sized farm owners are unable to meet due to lack of a means to expand processing and distribution. A food hub can support farmers in that endeavor. A food hub is a centrally located facility that assists in collecting, storing, processing and distributing or marketing locally produced products. In fact, at a workshop on metropolitan food systems held by the North Central Cooperative Extension Association earlier this year, participants identified the aggregation, distribution and processing of produce as one of the main impediments to growing the impact that local food production can have on local economies.

 The Michigan Economic Development Corporation recently awarded $50,000 to the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation (TBEDC), a local non-profit economic development arm of the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce, to plan a regional food hub in Traverse City in Building 58. Building 58 is located in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, one of the largest historical preservation and adaptive reuse redevelopments in the United States, led by the Minervini Group, headed by renovator and builder Raymond Minervini. The building, part of what was known as the Northern Michigan Asylum, consists of more than 55,000 square feet of old kitchens and storage where hospital staff prepared food for thousands. After renovation, the building will provide a yearlong indoor farmers market, a community kitchen for educational classes and value-added agricultural product development, a certified commercial kitchen for lease, cold storage, and product processing and aggregation for restaurants, schools, hospitals and grocery stores.

 J. Robert Sirrine, Michigan State University Extension community food systems educator in the Greening Michigan Institute, is directing the project, named the Grand Traverse Regional Market Initiative. MSU Extension is organizing the initiative with project partners, the Minervini Group, TBEDC, Don Coe (chair of the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development, and one of three Michigan delegates to the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching), the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments and the NW Michigan Sustainable Agriculture Sector Alliance, the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network, the Michigan Land Use Institute, local farmers, business owners and others.

 Rob wrote the grant that was awarded for the project. He helped coordinate focus group meetings with Detroit Eastern Market consultants and the Grand Traverse Regional Market Advisory Board and conducted a needs assessment. Rob will be working on a short request for proposal for interested consultants to conduct a market analysis and feasibility study, and he’ll be working with the Minervini Group to develop a construction budget and timeline for completion of the project.

Rob is awaiting word on an additional $25,000 grant that was submitted to Rotary Charities as well.

 The project is expected to lead to more employment opportunities for farmers, agri-food entrepreneurs, distributors, processors and others. It can lead to new product innovation, increasing profitability through reduced supply costs and co-marketing.

A 2011 report from the USDA suggests food hubs have the potential for remarkable economic impact. The Grand Traverse Regional Market certainly has that and more.

 Read more here.

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