Story From the Union Bulletin, September 28, 2018
A federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture could pave the way for a new “food hub” in the area.
Blue Mountain Action Council has been awarded $133,566 as part of the USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program Grant.
The funds will take the nonprofit and its partners through an 18-month study, exploring the creation of a joint operation that combines the food bank with agricultural partners distributing fresh produce and other possible uses.
The grant period begins Monday.
BMAC Food Bank Director Jeff Mathias said the goal is to bring together the common value shared between his agency and that of farm-to-food providers serving the region, “getting more local fresh produce in the arms of the community.”
Ultimately the goal of the program grant is to obtain a warehouse, cooler, processing equipment and freezer space so more agricultural products are available for consumption, especially through institutions and retailers.
“Cultivating a stronger local food economy is expected to create jobs, invigorate small farms and businesses, and keep dollars circulating in our regional community,” the announcement explained.
The Food Bank, Mathias said, is at capacity for equipment. It’s happened at the same time the operation considers how to expand partnerships with fresh food producers.
BMAC is the lead agency for the Walla Walla Food Systems Coalition, a partnership of producers, consumers, distributors and supporters in Walla Walla, Columbia and Umatilla counties.
According to the announcement, 10 regional organizations have committed to supporting the study and helped fulfill the 25 percent match requirement.
Those are: Arrowleaf Consulting, Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, Walla Walla’s Harvest Foods, Port of Columbia, Sustainable Living Center, Walla Walla County Conservation District, Walla Walla Grown, Walla Walla Valley Farm to School, Walla Walla Valley Food Coalition and the WSDA Regional Markets Program.
Arrowleaf will lead the study process. Mathias said partners will likely meet next week to begin to map out how to move forward.
Community input will be vital to that process, he said.
“That’s the way this thing is going to get shaped,” he emphasized.
Participants will need to find the best location to serve the public needs, which isn’t necessarily Walla Walla.
Another crucial component will be finding operations that can serve the profit center.
“An issue for a food hub getting off the ground is making sure it’s financially stable,” he said.
Ideas to explore could be some kind of processing. The space could also provide training for culinary skills or even exploring how to participate in waste reduction or composting.
The grant period runs through March 2020.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8