Catching up: Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative gaining interest in first season

2013-08-05T00:00:00Z Catching up: Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative gaining interest in first seasonJEFF GLAZE | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6138

Midway through its first growing season, Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative is making major strides in opening up markets for its farmers’ produce.

The 11-member Food Hub just began selling its produce in Roundy’s Supermarkets, which in the Madison area includes Copps and Pick ’n Save.

The Food Hub already has a network of distributors and grocery chains buying its products, including V. Marchese, Sysco, Miller & Sons and Midwest Foods, said Sarah Lloyd, the cooperative’s interim general manager.

The Food Hub came to fruition after several years of planning and studies. It launched last spring to provide a means for local small and mid-size growers to combine their produce to meet the volume requirements of larger buyers such as grocery stores, restaurants, schools and hospitals. In exchange for 12 percent of the sale price from its members, the cooperative provides marketing, insurance, training and a network of farming knowledge.

Based on crop commitments from farmers, the Food Hub is projecting about $3 million in produce sales in its first year. And that’s just the start, Lloyd said.

A 2011 Dane County Planning and Development Department food hub cooperative feasibility study surveyed buyers and growers and found that buyers indicated a demand for local produce ranging from $18 million to $26 million per year. Lloyd said the Food Hub will work toward recruiting new members over the winter and called the demand outlined in the county’s study “very doable.”

“We feel we’ll soon be in a position where we need more crops to meet demands,” she said. “Over the next couple of years, it would be great to have 40-50 farmers.”

The Food Hub is using numerous strategies to make its produce more attractive to buyers. It’s working to achieve Good Agricultural Practices certification for all its members and coordinating crops that are easy to prepare for institutions like school districts.

It’s also planning to add shared processing facilities, where crops could be aggregated, prepared and stored for buyers, within a few years.

“We’re glad to be into the season finally after a long spring of planning,” Lloyd said.

— Jeff Glaze

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