Food Hub Connects Growers, Consumers

(view more articles in SOS Tompkins Weekly)

Tompkins Weekly 3-24-14

By Grace Parker Zielinski

Finger Lakes Fresh hydroponic greenhouse has proven that leafy greens can be produced year round in Upstate New York, and just as importantly, that there is a high demand for this local produce. Now, Finger Lakes Fresh has developed a Food Hub to efficiently connect local farmers to customers, with far-reaching community benefits, boosting the local economy and making healthy local produce much more widely available.

Since 2005, Finger Lakes Fresh has operated as a division of Challenge Workforce Solutions, a non-profit agency founded in 1968 to offer employment services to people with disabilities or other barriers. Challenge assumed ownership from Cornell University, which developed the greenhouse as a research project in growing high quality fresh vegetables all year long. Using its agricultural experience, relationship with local farmers, and existing efficient distribution network, Finger Lakes Fresh has now expanded its operation to include an efficient and cost-effective Food Hub.

The new Finger Lakes Fresh Food Hub in Groton is an 18,000 square-foot facility that purchases local produce from farmers, cleans, processes, and packages it, and delivers it throughout New York State. This process will help farmers connect to markets such as schools, healthcare facilities, and businesses they could not access individually, and provide guaranteed sales that allow them to anticipate demand and plan for the future. The Food Hub will also add value to produce by creating new products such as tortillas and packages of sliced apples for schools.

The development of the Food Hub will also allow for the creation of over 35 jobs within three years for people with and without employment barriers; supporting members of our community who most need it. Dr. Kathryn Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences explains how important the Food Hub’s effects will be: “The Finger Lakes Fresh Food Hub has great potential for economic development opportunities in agriculture – dedication of more land to food production; increased sales revenue; and new job creation – that are critically important for the Southern Tier and Upstate New York.”

Beyond facilitating environmentally sustainable economic growth, this project benefits the community on several levels, most obviously by contributing to community members’ access to local nutritious foods. The Food Hub will increase the availability of local produce by expanding the markets farmers can reach, as well as by investing in dehydrating equipment that will extend the shelf life of these products. Not only will these healthy local foods reach further into the community by becoming available in restaurants, schools, and grocery stores, but they will also be available throughout the year rather than only when the produce is in season.

The Food Hub will further help local produce become more accessible to a wider population through partnership with the Food Bank. Natasha Thompson, President and CEO of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, expresses her confidence in the Food Hub: “We believe that this project will have a significant impact on our ability to distribute more locally grown, nutritious food to individuals in need throughout our Southern Tier service area.”

The Food Hub’s direct contributions to the community’s economic and physical health are impressive, but its success spreads social benefits even further through its association with Challenge. This project is expected to generate $2.4 million in annual sales by its third year, which benefits participating farmers and also helps Challenge to pursue its social mission. Challenge will reinvest all of the revenue from Food Hub into its programs and services that all aim to improve the lives of community members, making the Food Hub’s success a community victory beyond what the Food Hub itself has to offer.

To learn more about Challenge, the Finger Lakes Fresh Food Hub, or how you can help support this sustainable local food project through the purchase of additional equipment, contact Emily Parker, Director of Marketing & Development at Challenge Workforce Solutions ( 607-272-8990) or visit



If you liked this article, you may want to check out our complete archives of SOS Tompkins Weekly articles