It’s (finally) happening at the hub

The Catskills Food Hub launches in Liberty

LIBERTY, NY — Cat Wilson danced to the podium at the Catskills Food Hub on Friday afternoon—a reflection of how it feels to cut the ribbon on a project that’s been many years and speedbumps in the making.

“This county has a deep history of agriculture—a type of culture which had lost its value in the public eye for too long,” Wilson, the executive director of the hub, said to the crowd gathered in the warehouse. “But there is a renaissance here. You can see it in the streets and you can taste it on your plates. The hub will be a part of this revitalization of our community... Vibrant, thriving farms; busy restaurants, healthy school lunches; markets and convenience stores full of fresh food, grown or made by your neighbors. That is the future I want for this place.”

Sen. Jen Metzger talks to chairman of the county legislature, Luis Alvarez, at the ribbon cutting.

Among the 50 people gathered to support that future were Rep. Aileen Gunther, Sen. Jen Metzger, local farmers, county legislative chairman Luis Alvarez, Liberty Mayor Ronald Stabak and more. The group was there to support the grand opening of a food hub that promises to connect more than 30 local farms by providing one centralized location for wholesale buyers to purchase their goods. The hub will provide an online marketplace, professional delivery and technical assistance.

Welcomed by Denise Frangipane, president of Sullivan Renaissance and board chair of the food hub, speakers talked about the amount of funding, work and effort it has taken to get the project off the ground in the location that, almost 10 years ago, was slated to become a red-meat processing facility.

In 2010, after letting go of early plans to turn the hillside site into an agricultural development park, the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) decided to use only one-third of the property for a slaughterhouse, and moved forward retaining funding toward that project. Six years and close to $2 million in funding later—including an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce—a dropped contract with the only company willing to run the 5,250 square-foot facility pushed the IDA to drop the plan for a slaughtering house as well.

The plan changed course and all of the money, eventually, would be repurposed and put toward a food hub in the same site. Now, in that once “impossible” site on the hill in Liberty sits the Catskills Food Hub.

“The board and the staff at the IDA, with everything else that they have going on, never let this project fail,” Frangipane said. “They knew that it was important to the community—in some form, in some iteration, this facility needed to serve agriculture.”

The building includes 1,440 square feet of cooler space, cold and dry storage, a docking area, conference space and refrigerated vans. The hub plans to operate educational programs and technical assistance, including food handling and safety procedures, as well as serving as an aggregation site for local farms.

The opening of the hub took place just one day after the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its farm census. The census showed, nationwide, that midsize farms are continuing to disappear—and that very large farms are cornering the market. However, it also showed hope for small and very small farms, which make up most of the agricultural sector in Sullivan County, said representatives from the Cornell Cooperative Extension on Friday.

An attendee grabs a bite of food, catered by the Neversink General Store and made with ingredients from various local sources.

“Sullivan County is known for and proud of its robust agricultural community,” said Gunther, “You name it, and we produce it in this county.”

Local farmer and boardmember Brett Budde, of Majestic Farm, said he’s grateful that he will no longer have to drive for hours delivering food around the county.

“As a farmer, we’re able to have access to hundreds of buyers, and the best part is we’re going to be able to drop it off and service those buyers at one location: this place right here,” he said. “It’s going to be wonderful to be able to drop our food off and go back to the farm and do the work that we’ve decided to do.”

The opening of the Catskills Food Hub coincides with the closing of the Lackawaxen Food Hub, a similarly-focused venture based in Pennsylvania. There are differences in the goals and operating plans of the two facilities, Frangipane said. For one, the Catskills Hub will only provide to wholesale buyers, and does not, as of yet, have a consumer-supported agriculture share, or CSA, which Lackawaxen did.

Rather than dropping off four or five orders to individuals, the Catskills hub will deliver bulk orders to one place. It also has its own a centralized location and packaging facility. In the near future, Frangipane said, as she pointed to the storage shelves around the room, she envisions the place soon being “filled with food.”

“For those who have been here from the beginning,” she said to the crowd, “it’s time we can take a little breath.”

Find more information about food hubs here.


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