The ValleyHUB Annual Meeting brought farmers, food makers, retailers, food service providers and community partners together for a day of celebration, conversation, and collaboration.
Celebrating Our Growth!
On January 11, we gathered with over fifty of ValleyHUB’s partners to reflect on the past year’s activities and plan for the year to come. We began the day by celebrating the recent growth of local food sales through ValleyHUB, which are on track to more than double in the current fiscal year!
This increase in activity is driven in part by schools utilizing Michigan’s 10 Cents a Meal funding to nourish kids’ brains and bodies with healthy local produce. It’s also due to USDA Local Food Purchase Assistance dollars that allow ValleyHUB to make local food available to socially disadvantaged communities through the Valley Food Share and our partners at Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes and Sprout BC.
In round-table conversations, our partners talked about the impact of this growth, with farmers and food makers reporting increases in sales at sustainable prices and school food service providers describing victories in introducing new foods to kids with positive feedback from both kids and families.
At lunch we enjoyed the delicious successful outcome of our “Potato Project.” This was a collaborative project between Montague Public Schools, ValleyHUB, and Michigan State University, among others, to develop a frozen diced potato appropriate for serving in school lunch programs. For nearly a year, we researched and product-tested to find the right variety of locally grown potato and the right processing method to make it work for schools. Our Aramark catering team created a delicious potato bar featuring these potatoes, with lots of yummy toppings from our ValleyHUB suppliers!
Sharing Challenges & Solving Problems Together
Bolstered by our collaborative successes, we also talked about the hard stuff. Food providers described the challenges of cooking seasonally with local produce, especially during the winter months. Farmers and food makers talked about their difficulties finding adequate labor and funding investments in infrastructure needed to make their operations sustainable.
We tackled some of these challenges in afternoon breakout sessions that brought suppliers, buyers, and community partners together to discuss planning seasonal menus within institutional food service schedules, portions and packaging for different wholesale markets, and visions for a more sustainable and inclusive local food system.
We finished the day with food safety and culinary demonstrations. Chef and foodservice consultant Glenn Noffsinger and the KVCC Community Culinary team showcased seasonal recipes tailored for school lunch menus featuring local foods available through ValleyHUB at the Culinary and Allied Health Building. At the Food Innovation Center, partners learned about current on-farm food safety regulations and certification programs. MSUE educator Mariel Borgman and food safety consultant Phil Britton gave us an overview of existing food safety programs, followed by a Produce Safety Risk Assessment walk-through of the FIC urban farm by Produce Safety Technician Morgan Anderson.
In the morning session, Rachel Bair, Director for Sustainable Food Systems, welcomed ValleyHUB partners by saying: “You are all ValleyHUB. This is collaborative work–in the true, literal sense of that word–CO-LABOR–work together. Look at what WE have done this year, all of us!”
That’s what we’re going to keep doing, co-laboring to get even more local foods onto more local plates in the coming year. And we are planning more opportunities throughout the year for our partners to come together to learn with us and each other as we work together to co-create a local food system that nourishes us all.