Five years ago, a third grader at Clark Elementary School might have looked at his lunch tray and found a plastic cup of processed fruit. Today, he’s likely to pick up a fresh peach from Chiles Orchard. As a co-founder of the Local Food Hub, Kate Collier has brought farmers and big kitchens together, putting local meat and produce on plates across Virginia. Today, Local Food Hub delivers farm fresh food to over 50 schools in Virginia and its services have enabled over $3 million of purchasing from local family farms. The Local Food Hub aggregates small farms, allowing them to guarantee scaled-up quantity and consistency for institutions like the U.Va. Hospital, public schools, and restaurants. It hasn’t been easy, and part of the success has been channelling the passion of engaged citizens.
What was the inspiration for Local Food Hub?
In 2008, the need for a wholesale local food distribution service became clear based on conversations with local farmers delivering to feast! (West Main’s boutique grocery store & lunch spot, which Collier also founded) and an increased number of calls from restaurants, schools, and the U.Va. Hospital seeking local food for special events. A common theme emerged – farmers needed more consistent, larger volume customers, and institutions felt pressure from consumers to serve more local food, but it had to be easy. Institutional buyers wanted consistent supply, delivered regularly in a refrigerated truck with extensive liability insurance coverage. They wanted one phone number to call for all their local food needs. They said if they had that, an estimated 10-40% of their fresh food purchasing could be switched from out of state and out of country to local sources. With their substantial budgets, this shift could make a huge impact on the local food economy. What a great opportunity!
What was the biggest set-back?
After encouraging Marisa Vrooman and myself to work quickly to put together the full business plan and specific presentation required to apply for available economic development opportunity funds, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors changed the parameters of the fund and deemed our application ineligible. It was frustrating and heartbreaking, but it had a silver lining. The local news outlets covered the story and donations from citizens flooded in.
When did you begin to suspect this could be a success?
After the blow of being denied, the community mobilized to make Local Food Hub happen. Warehouse space was donated. Forklifts were contributed. The forward thinking Nelson County Economic Development Agency (NCEDA) supported the start up planning process. Local foundations delivered infrastructure funding. And a couple of young mothers started a letter writing campaign that brought in the money required to make the idea a reality. This tightly knit community really knows how to come together and get things done! From concept to start up, it only took 8 months.
What has been the biggest positive impact you have observed?
Healthy, fresh fruit and vegetables grown with care on local farms are being eaten by many more and diverse people today than five years ago. For example, instead of processed fruit cups at snack time, children at our public elementary schools are often eating whole apples and peaches grown on nearby Saunders, Henley, and Chiles orchards.
Have you founded other businesses or initiatives?
Twelve years ago, together with my husband, Eric Gertner, I founded feast!, a specialty food store and lunch cafe located in the Main Street Market building (developed by Gabe Silverman – ed.) in Midtown Charlottesville.
How do you define Founding?
Developing a clear vision and actionable plan that attracts a team with the skills and shared values to gather the resources required to establish and effectively manage a new venture.
What brought you to Charlottesville, and what keeps you here?
U.Va. for undergraduate school attracted me to Charlottesville in the early 1990′s. Running feast! keeps us here.
What’s next? For you and for your initiative?
Now that Local Food Hub has established the systems and capacity to source and deliver consistent quantities of locally grown foods, next is the goal of making healthy, local food the norm for all in our community instead of just at snack time and on special occasion. We want to promote and institutionalize the practice of buying local food first. The wide ripple effects of doing this hold so much positive opportunity for the economy, environment and public health. Daily, the LFH team is collaborating with farmers, nutritionists, purchasers, chefs, organizations, community leaders, and citizens to reach this goal.