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A Welcome from the Director

Welcome to our new website!

A Welcome from the Director
The sun rises on the FIC greenhouse a few weeks after we moved in, February 2016.

This month marks seven years since I joined Kalamazoo Valley Community College as the founding Director for Sustainable Food Systems. In June 2015, the building that would become the FIC was a slab in the middle of a muddy field, and the concept that would become ValleyHUB was just a collection of input and ideas from the partners that helped plan the Bronson Healthy Living Campus. Here in June 2022, the vision, like the garden, finally feels deeply rooted - and the launch of this beautiful new website makes it feel internet-real!

Rachel Bair stands in the same place the headline photo was taken, June 2022.Rachel Bair stands in the same place the headline photo was taken, June 2022.

For the last seven years, we’ve been listening to our partners, testing out new ideas, and growing step by step. We started out with the plan to work with farms throughout Southwest Michigan to help get their products onto plates in school, healthcare, and corporate cafeterias primarily in Kalamazoo County. ValleyHUB officially launched in winter 2017, and after three years of start-up and rapid growth in 2017-2019, the COVID-19 pandemic gave us a pause and held our operations steady for 2 years. We used the time to turn inward to build systems and gather tools - including a second truck, exciting new high-capacity equipment, stronger connections to KVCC academics, and this website - to prepare us for the next phase.

We built this website to support the operations of the ValleyHUB food hub. We knew we needed a landing place for farmers, makers, and potential customers to find the information that would help them get, and stay, connected to our network. On this site, you can learn about how our food hub works (because, in the words of the incomparable Rich Pirog, “if you’ve seen one food hub, you’ve seen one food hub”). You can view our network of partners. You can meet our team. Potential Buyers and Suppliers can contact us to get the process started. And you’ll find the beginnings of a resource and training hub that we’ll be building in order to support our partners in growing their operations with tailored education and technical assistance.

We also built this website to better explain how our food hub makes sense as part of Kalamazoo Valley Community College. It’s certainly a unique arrangement - according to the 2019 National Food Hub Survey, 93% of food hubs were operating as private-sector nonprofits, for-profit businesses, or member-owned cooperatives. We’re not aware of any other community colleges or other public institutions operating food hubs. If you are - please let us know!

So why are we doing it?

Responding to community needs

Kalamazoo Valley has a long history of shaping the landscape in Kalamazoo in innovative, tangible ways. In 2012, when planning began for the Bronson Healthy Living Campus, one of the key partners, Bronson Hospital, was working to increase their purchasing of local foods for their cafeteria and patient meals. Bronson’s leadership understood that investment in the small businesses in their community was an investment in future improvements in health outcomes - and they were willing to put their purchasing power behind that conviction. But, it was just complicated to buy food from dozens of local farms, time-intensive to handle it in the kitchen, and risky from a food safety standpoint. After several years, they were stuck at about 25% local purchases, far short of their 60% goal. So Bronson and Kalamazoo Valley worked together to dream the concept of ValleyHUB into the plans for the BHLC: a facility where local produce could be aggregated and processed - making it easier for Bronson and many other local institutions to put dollars back into our local community.

Taking a layered approach

Via ValleyHUB, we are directly working to reshape and build up the local and regional food system that will feed us resiliently in the future. But embedding this funny little food distribution business in a community college offers opportunities to amplify the impact. Students engage in the operations as part of their classes, internships, and work-study opportunities - gaining the skills they need to work in a shifting economy. Early on, we prioritized a “Green Care” approach to supported employment, and have maintained a strong partnership with MRC Industries, Inc., for six years and counting. We also offer non-credit educational programs for the community, focused on kitchen and garden skills.

These layers of programming are what gives our program its power: we work day-to-day to build the local food value chains, while we train current and future food industry professionals so they can be our allies in the workforce. Then, we offer community programming that shifts our shared culture around food and health and empowers individuals with skills and knowledge to create change in their own lives. We believe that a food hub that is tightly allied with education and deeply rooted in its community can make an impact that echoes. It’s more than just the movement of vegetables - it’s a movement.Onward

So here we are, seven years in: a running food hub with 30+ producer-suppliers and 40+ regular customers, 20 staff, 3 active USDA grants, 20 noncredit classes reaching 250+ community members, supporting activities for 150+ Culinary Arts students in their courses, and dozens of community programming partners. We’ll share more about all of these topics and collaborators on this blog over the next year.

There is so much room for growth, and so much good work to do, and we can’t wait to tell you all about it. Thanks for being here.

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FIC in March 2016: so much potential!

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FIC in August 2021: so much growing!

June 20, 2022
By: Rachel
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