Grant Will Increase Access to Locally Grown Produce and Fund Outreach

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Kalamazoo Valley Community College has been awarded a $271,058 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to support local food chains through its ValleyHUB food hub at the Food Innovation Center. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $102.7 million to increase opportunities for farmers, ranchers and other growers across the country through five grant programs. The funding supports a variety of locally-led projects intended to expand markets for local food promotion and specialty crops.

“Every state has agricultural priorities that contribute to the well-being of farm families, consumers and the economic health of rural America,” said Under Secretary Greg Ibach. “These programs target resources to the state, local and regional level where the people who understand the issues best can find solutions that help everyone.”

The resources are administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and include $13.45 million directed to 44 projects through the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP). These projects support the development and expansion of local and regional food businesses to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets.

ValleyHUB was one of two LFPP funding recipients in the state of Michigan and one of 44 projects nationwide to receive funds. The grant will support the development and expansion of local and regional food businesses to increase domestic access and consumption of locally and regionally produced agricultural products. It will also enable the development of new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets though the Local Food Promotion Program.

ValleyHUB is a farm, food hub and education center in the Food Innovation Center located at 224 E. Crosstown Parkway, on the college's Bronson Healthy Living Campus. At the center’s farm, staff and students test new and innovative methods for year-round growing. In the food hub, fresh produce from local farms is lightly processed and distributed to local customers. The training center offers programs in food safety, produce handling and production methods to help growers and food handlers innovate and succeed. “Our goal is to get more healthy fresh foods onto more plates in Southwest Michigan,” said Rachel Bair, director of Kalamazoo Valley’s Food Innovation Center. Bair explained that local food demand within institutions is robust in Southwest Michigan, but supply chain barriers exist for small and mid-size diversified farms. “ValleyHUB is an ideal facility to overcome these barriers and several current and ongoing local efforts support these shifts toward local purchasing.

However, investments remain necessary in product development, grower safety training and equipment to increase processing capacity,” Bair said. The grant, $271,058 over the next three years, will fund a full-time food hub education and outreach coordinator, a large industrial vegetable dicer and continuation of food safety training and certification efforts. “It will allow us to significantly scale up ValleyHUB and increase flexibility to better serve institutional customers like Kalamazoo Public Schools, Western Michigan University, Bronson Hospital and our own culinary operations,” Bair said. “We anticipate this new focus will create interest in new trainings, internships, and job opportunities for our students and graduates who go to work with these partners.”

ValleyHUB is a partner in the Michigan Food Hub Network, a statewide coalition organized by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. MSU also received Local Food Promotion Program funding this year to support the Michigan Food Hub Network. Bair said interviews for a food hub education and outreach coordinator are underway. This new Food Innovation Center staff member will work to develop and execute a customer engagement plan to increase sales of locally-sourced fresh and fresh-cut produce to institutions. “I’m proud of the Food Innovation Center staff for writing an award-winning grant application and I’m enthused about the way programming will continue to expand and influence healthier eating throughout the Southwest Michigan region,” said Kalamazoo Valley Community College President L. Marshall Washington, Ph.D.

This article was posted on 11/06/2018.