Comfort Food Community Visits The Hub on the Hill

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Field Trip Expands Organizations’ Thinking

Recently, members of Comfort Food Community, along with representatives from the Agricultural Stewardship Association and Battenkill Culinary Services, made an important drive two hours north to Essex, NY. Essex is home to a young, but growing food hub that is situated on a hill along NY-22, overlooking the Champlain Valley and the village of Essex below.

For years, the site had been a local hardware store and then the space was converted into personal storage lockers that were rented to community members for a monthly fee.

In 2014, the owner and operator of the storage facility was looking to fully retire and put the building and the property around it up for sale. Without knowing exactly what they were going to do with it, a few young entrepreneurs decided to dive in and figure out what the best use of the space was given what the commercial and personal needs of the community were.

Food Meets Infrastructure

Jora, one of the owners and the principle manager of the operation, and her husband had come from a farming background and knew a lot of the needs of local farms were centered around having more dry, cold and freezer storage space.  They also food processing as an early service that the local food economy wasn’t supplying at that time. So, one-by-one, as they food customers to rent them, they started to either rent out existing storage lockers to food producers or knocking down existing walls to make space for walk-in coolers, freezers and eventually a commercial kitchen. The business model started to emerge before their eyes and before they even realized it, they figured out that they were, for all intents and purposes, operating a food hub.  With that in mind and with the location being what it is, the name, Hub on the Hill was born – and they haven’t looked back since.

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The Hub on the Hill now produces a line of its own branded food products, it rents the kitchen space to several other food producers, plays an increasing role in processing local farm food for institutional buyers and offers administrative and business support to all of the farms and food businesses that it contacts along the way.

The space has increasingly become a hub for the community, in general, as well. Their small farm store doubles as a sort of co-working space that sees farmers and entrepreneurs throughout the area working alongside and sharing ideas. The Hub also hosts a taco truck, makes pizzas and offers live music out on a patio area that they’ve developed on Thursday nights, which has become a favorite hang-out space for the community during the summer.

Information and Inspiration

Traveling to the Hub on the Hill with ASA and BCS gave Comfort Food Community a great opportunity to learn more about the food hub model and to bounce ideas off of one another about what programs, services and features would add value to the farms and the food businesses in the Greenwich and Washington County areas. There are certainly a lot of similarities between Greenwich and Essex in terms of the agricultural activities that are happening and it is easy to envision how adding a space like Hub on the Hill could potentially expand the local food economy into new products and new markets.

For Comfort Food Community’s part and the role we play in creating access to healthy food for low-income families, having access to a space that offered more and better food storage options and a kitchen that could convert summer abundance into winter nutrition through freezing, canning or other forms of minimal food processing, would transform the menu of healthful options that we are able to offer through our Food Pantries.

It was an informative and inspiring trip that has jump-started an important conversation among the three organizations. We are thankful to Jora and the Hub on the Hill team for their time and the dedication that they demonstrate to their work.