Posted August 3, 2022 at 02:53pm by Laura Carbonneau
A Partnership in Action: How Food Connects and the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation are working together to support our food economy.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Laura Carbonneau, Marketing & Outreach Manager, Food Connects
A Partnership in Action
How Food Connects and the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation are working together to support our food economy.
[BRATTLEBORO, VT, Month Date—] Food Connects is excited to announce its expansion within the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation’s (BDCC) Business Park on Putney Road in Brattleboro. This expansion will represent an additional 10,000 square feet for the non-profit’s Food Hub operations.
The Food Connects Food Hub was designed to make it easy for wholesale customers to buy regional food while maximizing returns to producers. This means that local schools, hospitals, restaurants, and food co-ops have access to delicious and nutrient-dense foods that don’t have to travel long distances. Since 2009, the Food Connects Food Hub has grown to sell food from over 117 regional producers to over 250 customers, including schools and institutions, retail grocers, hospitals, and farmstands.
In late 2018, Food Connects moved to a warehouse space in the BDCC Business Park to expand its operations and, since then, quickly grew—outfitting a roughly 1,000 square foot freezer and cooler space the following winter.
Food Connects saw increased demand for local and regional foods as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged global food distribution channels. Between 2019 and 2021, sales tripled, and this growth has presented new and exciting opportunities—including the need to increase cold and dry storage, hire more drivers, and expand its fleet size.
Now, Food Connects has outgrown its Food Hub space and needs to add infrastructure to match its projected growth. Sales through June 30th of this year were 65% above 2021, and they hadn’t even hit the peak harvest season yet! So, Food Connects leveraged its close partnership with the BDCC to find a solution.
The BDCC has been an instrumental partner in the Food Hub’s growth. After two years of planning, discussion, and searching, an additional space just down the hall from the Food Hub’s current location was identified as a potential space to expand operations. The primary need is for additional cooler and freezer space to store fresh produce, dairy products, and meats which will meet the organization’s growing demand and serve as a long-term home.
As a social enterprise, Food Connects prioritizes increasing access to source-identified regional foods for wholesale customers while maximizing returns for farmers and food producers across New England. It operates as efficiently as possible while keeping margins below industry standards to keep the price points competitive.
“It’s exciting to see more and more connections with producers and wholesale customers who share our vision of a better connected regional food system,” says Richard Berkfield, Executive Director at Food Connects. “Knowing where the food is from, how it was produced, who the producers are, the connection between food and health and well-being—it’s all part of our mission to create healthy families, thriving farms, and connected communities.”
The two organizations are excited to deepen their already strong partnership. Together, Food Connects and the BDCC recognize the importance of strengthening regional food distribution to build resilience within our community. Those who produce food to feed our region should be guaranteed a fair price for their products and labor. Due to its ethos, in 2021, Food Connects was able to return over $1.2 million to food producers across the region. This creates a virtuous cycle of reinvestment back into our community.
This expansion's impact is critical to the regional food economy. The expansion will represent a 210% increase in food handling space—1,150 sq. ft. in cooler space (+133%), 1,200 sq. ft. in freezer space (+572%), and a more than 200% increase in dry storage. Once fully built out, long-term food storage and handling capacity will increase by 330%. As this space is filled with more regional food, customers (especially those in rural areas who cannot meet minimum orders from mainstream distributors) will have increased access to quality regional food.
Job creation within the regional food system is also a priority of the partnership. Since the decision to expand, Food Connects has created two new positions, an Inside Sales and Procurement Coordinator and a Warehouse Coordinator. These positions will help increase efficiencies and allow more specialization and focus on the part of other employees. One area of focus will be increased technical assistance for Vermont producers who are looking to become wholesale-ready. As the increased internal capacity impacts these food businesses, a ripple effect will appear, creating more jobs throughout their businesses.
Increasing regional food distribution through our community organizations, businesses, and institutions, along with the local economic impact of jobs and business growth, is critical to the resiliency of the regional food system. “This regionally important expansion project is in keeping with the BDCC’s mission to help increase the vibrancy of the economy for all residents of Windham County,” said BDCC Executive Director Adam Grinold. “Food Connects continues to deliver on its virtuous mission while simultaneously planning for a future business model they know will bring meaningful benefit to their producers and consumers alike.”
“We are looking forward to continuing to build our network for producers and consumers,” says Berkfield. “We are looking to donors who want to be a part of this to help us invest in critical infrastructure to make this a reality for the long term.”
If you would like to learn more about this project and support the growth of the Food Hub, please contact Food Connects at email@example.com.
Food Connects is an entrepreneurial non-profit that delivers locally produced food as well as educational and consulting services aimed at transforming local food systems. The Food Hub aggregates and delivers from over 150 regional farms and food producers to over 150 buyers in southeast Vermont, southwest New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts. Their educational services focus on Farm to School programming. Acknowledged as a statewide leader, the program supports over 30 schools to increase local food purchasing, school meal participation, and food, farm, and nutrition education. Together these core programs contribute to a vibrant local economy by increasing local food purchases by schools and improving students’ nutrition and academic performance. Food Connects is frequently hired to provide leadership and consulting services for efforts to support food systems initiatives throughout New England and act as a catalyst for change. For more information about Food Connects and our work in the community, please visit foodconnects.org.
The Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation is a private, nonprofit economic development organization that serves as a catalyst for industrial and commercial growth throughout Southeastern Vermont, including Windham County and the towns of Readsboro, Searsburg, Weston, and Winhall.