Board Releases Food Hub Feasibility Study

SALAMANCA – The number of people who want to eat locally grown and produced food is on the rise.

Because of this, communities are working to ensure the supply of locally grown and produced food matches the demand. Friday, the Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development board released the results of a six-month food hub feasibility study that assessed the opportunities, challenges and recommendations for the development of a food hub to serve farm and food producers in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.

Food hubs are enterprises or systems that increase the production, distribution and sales of local farm products in a coordinated, deliberate and sustained manner. Food hubs can be developed and function in a variety of ways. However, they are generally considered to be a primary vehicle by which small and limited-resource farmers can gain access to mid-size and larger markets.

Anthony Flaccavento, an economic development consultant and farmer, conducted research.

He visited each of the three counties of the Southern Tier and interviewed more than 100 people involved in the production, processing, distribution and consumption of food grown or produced within the counties.

During a 90-minute presentation, Flaccavento explained his research and findings, as well as presented opportunities available.

According to Kimberly LaMendola, regional development coordinator for Southern Tier West, it was realized consumers want healthy, local food.

“Because of our seasonal fluctuations and the difficulty of getting into retail markets, most consumers don’t have year-round or consistent access,” LaMendola said. “This was just a way to have the services of a consultant and a nationally respected pioneer of food, aggregation and distribution and a farmer himself to kind of really hone down in our region, these three counties of New York state, see where we are, what we have and what we need to do to wrap up or scale up so that we have that consistent access, affordable access to food that we grow and produce right here in Western New York.”

The Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development Board will now work to go through the study and break it down into manageable pieces in order to begin implementation.

“I think we roll up our sleeves and really judiciously plot a way to implement these recommendations,” LaMendola said. “We have the flexibility of looking at what will work, where we are right now, but I think Anthony’s recommendations are pretty spot-on, and he’s really given us a three- to five-year road map.”

Already, the number of farmers’ markets in the United States has grown to more than 8,000 from only a few thousand three or four years ago, according to LaMendola.

“There is huge increase in people wanting food that is grown from within their food shed, or from within the area in which they live, work and play,” she said. “I think with the chronic and dire health indicators, with obesity and children with illnesses that are all diet-related, parents and consumers and people are really becoming educated on the connection between a healthy diet and physical health, community health and economic health. Building a food system and creating access to safe, affordable, healthy food can actually become an economic leverage. Businesses want to come to communities where people are healthy. This is just one way, but a very important way, to really build our communities and regions.”