Creating a local farm hub; Growers seek cooperative effort


Creating a local farm hub; Growers seek cooperative effort
Derek Barichello, derekb@mywebtimes.com, 815-431-4073 Updated Mar 29, 2016 0
Root 23 Food Hub
The Times | file photo

 

Root 23 Food Hub
Curt Bedei, co-organized of the Root 23 Food Hub, pulls onions from a farm outside Grand Ridge in May 2012. The hub seeks to connect growers and buyers for local produce.

 

Too often small growers can’t find enough buyers for what they harvest.

Conversely, restaurant chefs and grocers don’t have the time to sort through different farms to seek out their needs locally.

The Root 23 Food Hub wants to pull together growers to sell products wholesale to restaurants and grocery stores through a virtual hub. The hub business hopes to call the Streator Incubator home.
The virtual hub would allow buyers to go to a website and see what produce is available and provide growers that marketplace to sell their products locally, instead of taking trips 100 miles north to Chicago or south to Bloomington or Champaign-Urbana.

A dozen small farmers met for an informational meeting at The Lone Buffalo, the new farm-to-table brewpub in Ottawa, to discuss the potential of such an idea.

“There’s a demand for local produce,” said Jody Ogle, who is one of the organizers of Root 23 and owns Santorineos Family Farm near Kangley. “When you have two or three acres of production like we do, there’s no way we can source enough to support the demand ourselves.”

Bringing small farmers together gives the hub the volume to entice wholesale buyers, such as restaurants. It also provides the marketing necessary to sell products. Some farmers at the meeting said it takes hours to find wholesale buyers.

“We want to help farmers move product because the more time farmers are spending on their phone, that’s less time in the field,” said Curt Bedei, small farmer and organizer of Root 23.

While small farmers sometimes can’t meet demand needs, other times they grow too much of an item. The hub would be a place to sell surplus.

“We want to find a place for product with no home,” Bedei said.

Lone Buffalo Chef Scott Seese said restaurants want to buy as much locally as they can because it’s cheaper than going through a distributor and fresher.

Seese, who worked in Grand Rapids, Mich., a city of nearly 200,000 people, told those in attendance a similar setup took off there.

Using the website would be free for buyers and sellers, but a 5 percent charge would be added to orders and 5 percent charge to sellers with the funds going to the hub.

How it works

A brick-and-mortar hub will be set up at the Streator Incubator, the former Armory, if Root 23’s application to operate there is approved.

The Incubator would serve as a drop-off and pickup point for food items. The facility also includes a certified kitchen to store and prepare value-added products, such as jellies or sauces.

“One of our goals is to prevent waste of products,” Ogle said.

Bedei said giving farmers the resources to create value-added products could lead to its own business ventures.

“It’s about taking what you grow to the next level.”

What’s next

Ogle and Bedei hope to have the virtual hub operating by June. Their business plan still needs approval from the Streator Incubator.

Bedei said the plan to create a farm hub has been something he’s had on his mind for a while, but was recently sparked to go forward with it when Lone Buffalo opened.

“I’ve always asked if our area can support it,” Bedei said. “I think the trend is here.”

Go to root23hub.com if you’re interested in asking questions or learning more.

 

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