Food Hub to Connect Producers and Wholesalers

Food Hub to Connect Producers and Wholesalers

In March 2023, the University of Mount Olive (UMO) officially opened the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission Agricultural Commodity Building at the George R. Kornegay, Jr. Student Farm.

This 5,000-square-foot facility is equipped to pack, store, and process fresh produce grown on the Student Farm. It boasts two walk-in coolers, a commercial freezer, and ample space for grading, packing, and storing products. Beyond its initial functions, this summer the building is transforming into a vital Food Hub.

The Role of the Food Hub

Food hubs are essential in local food systems, bridging the gap between farmers and local or regional markets. They provide a centralized location where farmers can deliver their products for wholesale buyers to pick up and distribute to restaurants, grocery stores, and other outlets.

UMO’s Food Hub aims to enhance these connections, benefiting the farming community and consumers.

The Inception of the Food Hub

The concept for the Food Hub originated from the UMO Agriculture Department’s goal to supply the campus community and dining services with produce from the Kornegay Student Farm.

This objective necessitated adhering to food safety certifications and standards, such as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). As UMO navigated the GAP certification process, it became evident that local farmers could also leverage this facility to access new markets.

By collaborating with neighboring farms, UMO is poised to offer diverse fresh produce, amplifying the benefits for farmers and the community.

Launching the CSA Program

Starting in June, UMO will introduce a weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, delivering produce boxes initially in partnership with a statewide nonprofit through December 2024. Come 2025; this program will be available to the public, offering weekly fresh produce boxes and expanding to serve food service and retail markets.

The Food Hub will distribute produce from the Kornegay Student Farm and purchase fresh produce, meat, and eggs from local farmers, enhancing the variety and quantity of products in the CSA boxes.

In addition to CSA boxes, the Mount Olive Regional Food Hub and the Kornegay Student Farm will provide produce on UMO’s main campus, at the student farm, and via a mobile market stand. This initiative ensures fresh, locally-grown food is accessible to a broader audience.

Student Involvement

UMO students play a crucial role in this endeavor, participating alongside faculty and staff in the growing, harvesting, and packing of produce.

This hands-on experience bridges their academic learning with real-world applications. Summer student workers undergo comprehensive training in food safety and harvest procedures and are actively involved in marketing the products, gaining invaluable practical skills.

Leadership and Community Engagement

Erin Martin, a local multi-generation farmer, has been appointed to lead the Food Hub. With years of experience working with her family’s farming operation, Martin is well-prepared to elevate the Food Hub to new heights and drive its success.

To stay updated on the latest developments at the Food Hub, follow the University of Mount Olive Agriculture on Facebook and Instagram. Farmers interested in participating or individuals seeking updates on produce availability and CSA subscription information can contact Erin Martin at [email protected].

Supporting Local Agriculture

The Mount Olive region is home to a variety of produce farms of different sizes and specialties. Establishing the Food Hub at UMO’s Kornegay Student Farm marks a significant step in supporting these farms, promoting sustainable agriculture, and ensuring the community has access to fresh, locally produced food.

This initiative embodies UMO’s commitment to agricultural education, community engagement, and regional development.