The West Coast Wire
Western NL Food Hub aims to set deep roots
The 2021 pilot project has been relaunched with vision to become self-sustainable
After a four-month pilot program in 2021, the Western NL Food Hub is back and, this time, the plan is to stay.
The Western NL Food
Hub is an online store connecting customers with local food producers. Customers can place their orders online between Friday morning and Monday morning each week. The orders are sent to local farms and other small-scale producers on Tuesdays. The food is then delivered to the hub’s location at 17 Herald Ave. in Corner Brook on Wednesdays and customers can pick up their orders on Thursdays.
Food First NL, a provincial non-profit organization with a mission to advance the right to food in Newfoundland and Labrador, operated the program between July and October in 2021. The organization spent 2022 securing more funding to relaunch in 2023, with the goal of establishing it as a self-sustaining enterprise.
The food hub, now also supported by the Northpine Foundation, which invests risk capital to achieve scalable outcomes for selected underserved and underinvested communities in Canada, started back up with a soft launch a couple of weeks ago and is planning an official opening on Aug. 30.
According to Richard Butt, a local farmer who is the hub’s program co-ordinator, the latest funding support will allow the program to continue year-round for the next two years. That will allow local producers who have cold storage capacity or have frozen meat or seafood products to sell through the hub.
“This is really going to give us a chance to be consistent for the customer and make us part of their regular grocery shopping routine,” said Butt, who operates Birchbark Farm in Pasadena.
As of Aug. 10, there were seven local producers involved in selling products via the Western NL Food Hub and the program has been in the process of getting 27 local producers — and counting — involved soon. Some of those may be waiting to participate simply because their products are not ready for harvest yet.
Lauralee Ledrew, who owns Upper Humber Settlement in Cormack with her husband, Mark, is a local producer who took part in the 2021 pilot project and is participating in the relaunched Western NL Food Hub.
“The success we’ve seen through this has really encouraged us because we realized people do want to buy our product and we are in high demand,” said Ledrew.
“It lets us grow even more food and now we have a lot of product to put on this market and we are looking forward to it.”
In 2021, the hub was operated amidst pandemic restrictions and at a location that made accessibility a challenge. Samantha Young, the western and northern regional animator with Food First NL, who spends half of her time working for the Western NL Food Hub, said there will be much more emphasis to make stronger connections between customers and producers.
“People can come here and see what we’re doing. We will also be advertising all of the farmers we have and have people know more about where their food is actually coming from.”
The long-term vision of the hub is to eventually have a commercial kitchen and facilitate secondary processing of local products. The Western NL Food Hub is in communication with other food hubs across Canada that have taken significant steps towards being fully self-sustaining.
While some local producers sell in big grocery stores, some have a difficult time doing so or are intimidated by the certifications some stores have in place. Butt said the standards required of food imported from the mainland or outside Canada don’t all apply to food products that only need to travel down the highway from a local farm.
“We’re trying to establish the local concept because we’re importing 90-plus per cent of our food here in Newfoundland (and Labrador),” said Butt.
The Western NL Food
Hub had a customer base of about 650 when it started up this year and has already added about 100 more since its soft launch. If the demand is there, the hub hopes it can eventually expand to have satellite distribution outlets in communities outside of Corner Brook.
There isn’t a walk-in retail service, but that is something that could also evolve. The fact that all the food delivered on Wednesdays is already sold and is gone by Thursday is an important aspect of the operation, noted Young.
“We minimize the amount of food waste, which is one of the positives of how we’re doing it,” she said.
Rasheed Ature, program assistant for the food hub, says the program is all about accessibility for both the producer and the customer.
“It’s difficult for small-scale producers to get their stuff into grocery stores,” he said. “Once we’re able to bring such products onboard, people can have access to whatever food they are looking for. … We’re trying to make it as accessible as possible in terms of cost and the distance you would have to travel to get it.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story previously ran in The Telegram.