Posted: Saturday, November 24, 2012 12:00 am
By JOEL MILLS of the Tribune |
As the local food movement gains steam nationwide, area groups are working to create food processing, storage and distribution facilities that can help bridge the gap from farm to table.
“One hundred and fifty years ago, Lewiston grew its own food,” said Jacqui Gilbert with Lewiston’s Community Development Department. “It ate what it grew, and we didn’t have the big trucks coming in. That being the case, why can we not do that again?”
Gilbert is working with a task force to explore the idea of launching a facility that could be utilized by local growers and producers to create food products that could be sold on both large and small scales. The facility could include several types of commercial kitchens, and components for storeage and distribution to buyers like restaurants, grocery stores and large institutions.
The first step is gauging demand for such a facility, and learning what it needs to look like. To that end, the task force is conducting an onlinve survey at www.inlandnwfoodhub.com to gather input from people who are already in the food production business, and those who may want to get started.
Gilbert said both groups are essential to moving the project forward. Entrepreneurs with a good idea would benefit greatly from a “food hub” because it could save them the prohibitive capital cost of setting up their own facility. And existing businesses can help the start-ups by sharing their working models for success.
“That transfer of knowledge and skill to other brew businesses that are coming in is absolutely paramount,” Gilbert said.
The project is still in its infancy, and funding hasn’t been secured. But Gilbert said that when a business model is closed to completion, the group will begin the prcess of seeking grants, or looking at other funding approaches, both public and private.
A separate but related food hub project is int he works in Latah County. Headed by the Latah Economic Development Council, the Latah Food Innovation and Resource Center is using a grant to do research and a feasibility study for a facility that would be located somewhere on the Palouse.
Cinda Williams, a UI extension educator for small farms, said that effort fostered a recent “food summit” that brought different parties together to help coordinate different food hub projects, including the one in Lewiston.
“There seems to be an increasing demand for local products, even at the universities, hospitals, and public facilities like jails and such,” Williams said. “There are movements all over the country to try to increase the amounts of local food. With that comes an increased demand, hich might bring more marketing opportunities for growers, both large and small.