Valley Vision get USDA grant for Yolo Food Hub planning – Sacramento Business Journal – Sacramento Business Journal

Years after identifying the need, there is new momentum behind a project to build a food hub in the Sacramento region.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded nonprofit research and advocacy group Valley Vision a $173,250 grant to study the need, feasibility and develop a business plan for the Yolo Food Hub. That’s building on top of $2 million in American Rescue Plan funding the Yolo County Board of Supervisors earmarked for the food hub in September.
A food hub works as an aggregator and distributor where multiple small producers get together to offer the larger volumes that large, institutional buyers need. In the Sacramento region, a food hub could help more locally produced food to stay within the region, benefiting the local economy.
As early as 2014, community groups including Valley Vision and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments identified the need for a food hub as a critical piece of infrastructure in strengthening the Sacramento region’s local agriculture supply chain.
“The food hub is the next missing link,” Valley Vision Managing Director Trish Kelly told the Business Journal.
According to SACOG, 3.4 million tons of food are grown in the Sacramento region and shipped around the world every year. However, very little of that food is making its way onto local tables. Just 2% of the food consumed annually by local residents is produced locally.
The Sacramento Food System Action Plan, which was recently released by Valley Vision and the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, found that building a more robust pipeline from local production to local consumption would boost the local economy and help alleviate food insecurity, which is higher than the national average, in the region.
One of the challenges is connecting small producers with large buyers. The Sacramento region has a number of small farms — according to the action plan, the average farm size here is 196 acres. On their own, small farms can’t supply the volume that large buyers like hospitals, schools and restaurants need. It’s easier and less expensive for food distributors to work with large producers, which is how food ends up coming in from other states or countries.
The Yolo Food Hub will also provide processing facilities, storage and other infrastructure to help support the local food supply chain and connect small farmers with regional markets.
“The big driver is the processing,” said Thomas Nelson, director of the Yolo, Sacramento, Solano region for Kitchen Table Advisors. Kitchen Table Advisors, a nonprofit that focuses on the economic viability of small sustainable farms, is one of the collaborators on the project, along with Capay Valley Farm Shop, Yolo Food Bank, New Season Community Development Corp. and Fiery Ginger Farm.
Nelson said processing facilities are something the Capay Valley Farm Shop, Yolo Food Bank and Fiery Ginger Farm’s new school-focused venture Spork Food Hub have long needed. The facilities will help the food hub attract more customers, as large buyers are looking for produce that is already partially processed — schools tend to prefer apples that are already sliced, for example. Nelson said the Yolo Food Hub will have facilities for washing and processing soft food product, hard product and frozen product.
Nelson said they have already gotten interest from farmers as far away as Yuba County who are interested in using the facility. Processing capacity is hard to come by.
“I think there’s one facility in Sacramento and a few in the Bay Area,” Nelson said.
Cold storage is also something growers have been asking for.
“I think the storage component is significant,” Nelson said. “It’s something that small farms often don’t have enough of on their farms.”
The food hub could also include a shared kitchen, for use by entrepreneurs developing food products. It could also include job training and a community garden.
The Yolo Food Hub will be built in Esparto, adjacent to the Capay Valley Farm Shop. New Season Community Development Corp. will serve as the developer on the project. Nelson said the entire project is expected to cost $10 million.
In addition to the funding from the county, a regional coalition has submitted a large application for funding under the Build Back Better initiative, which would include funding for the food hub.
Planning and fundraising will continue through 2022, Nelson said, with an eye toward starting construction in 2023 and opening in 2024.
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