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Grant Supports Food Hub Initiative

The USDA is helping fund an effort to get products from local farms into the kitchens of large institutions in the region, such as colleges and hospitals.  Officials say the demand for food from closer to home continues to grow, but the infrastructure to supply it has not kept up.  WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports

   A grant from a US Department of Agriculture rural jobs program has been awarded to a non profit food policy organization, Wholesome Wave, for their New England Food Hub Cluster Initiative. The food hubs aggregate products from small to mid-size farms for processing and distribution to school cafeterias, college dining halls and hospitals.

   USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who announced the  $568,000 grant award during a visit  to a farm in Deerfield Massachusetts Monday predicted the strategy would help to preserve farmland and create  jobs.

       According to the latest agriculture census , New England, has over the last five years experienced an increase in very small specialized farming operations, as well as growth in large scale        operations. The trouble lies in the middle where farmers with gross annuals sales of about  $250,000 are struggling.

Daniel Ross of Wholesome Wave said  food hubs provide a kind of one  stop shopping for the directors of institutional kitchens.

Ross said the food hubs his organization works with pay farmers up to 70 percent of the  retail price for their products, while a typical food wholesaler will pay about 30 percent of the retail price.

Gus Schumacher, a former state agriculture commissioner in Massachusetts, who is Executive Vice President with Wholesome Wave said there are about a dozen  food hubs now operating in New England. He said most are small and have been operating for less than a year.

The USDA grant will help pay for shared services, such as accounting, for the network of food hubs.

Congressman John Olver of Massachusetts, who was at Monday’s grant announcement at  Williams Family Farm in Deerfield, said expanding food hubs could help improve the nation’s overall health by making farm fresh food available to more people in more places.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.