Note: The need for this facility has not changed but the plans for how it may be realized have. Please refer to the Future Plans page for an update on our organizational efforts as regard such a facility.
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The "Hub" Agricultural Depot & Rural Resource Center
We are the Sustainable Living Project (SLP) and we would like to introduce you to our latest project. We are a small educational non-profit project with large plans. We would like you to be aware of our ongoing work and we kindly seek your input as you feel is appropriate. Feel free to email us at SustLivingProject@gmail.com.
A new paradigm in creating regional food supply chains is emergent. Though hardly alone in these efforts, one not-for-profit organization in the St. Lawrence River Valley region has been working diligently to both create and meet the needs of the new local food economy. Thus far, the approach has been purely educational, even celebratory, as it should be. The next phase, however, is all about local economic infrastructure.
Currently a project of Seedcorn, Inc., the Sustainable Living Project (SLP) plans a new facility in the region,
A little background information:
A Crisis in Farming Is Now An Opportunity
Mid-sized farms are disappearing because, individually, they are often too small to compete successfully in international agricultural commodity markets, yet they are not positioned to bypass these markets and directly market food to local consumers. Case studies of innovative enterprises offer models of how mid-sized farms and ranches can prosper through the construction of a “third tier” in the U.S. agri-food system. Known as “mid-scale food value chains,” these new business structures focus on strategic alliances that effectively operate at regional levels with significant volumes of high-quality, differentiated food products, and distribute profits equitably among the strategic partners.
"The Hub" is an agricultural depot and rural skills resource center that is planned for the St. Lawrence River Valley region of New York State. The infrastructure necessary to support and expand the base of diversified, or differentiated, small family farms in the region currently does not exist. Farm-based stands, farmers market booths, and sales to distributors such as Finger Lakes Organics (for those who qualify) and the burgeoning North Country Grown Cooperative (with sales to local colleges and institutions) are currently the major sources of farm-based income for most area "diversified-income" farms (excluding dairy).
It should be noted that farm sales are often not the sole support for the family farmer, with at least one partner and often both working off-farm as well. In an industry already heavily dependent on human capital, these direct-sale options are often a burden to farm families when time is needed to plan, plant, tend and harvest the crops as well as to sell them, and often to work another job as well.
In order to step up the diversified production capacity of local farms and provide a market that allows said scaling-up to become full-time enterprises, creating new jobs and wealth/retention in the region, a mid-scale food value chain is needed to provide infrastructure and support.
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Strategic and business planning for "The Hub" facility is nascent and collaboration with myriad stakeholders ongoing. Regional NGOs and for-profit businesses have been recruited through participation in the SLP's Local Living Festival and the year-round educational efforts of the Sustainable Living Project. Collaboration with farmers, growers co-ops, support organizations, and others on the supply side of the equation have been formed. Demand side connections are also strong with local colleges, restaurants, and nursing homes expressing serious intent. A letter of commitment is available from SUNY Potsdam's Food Services Director. The institution, already a strong leader in bringing fresh local foods to their menus through the North Country Grown Cooperative, is willing to purchase seasonal local food that will be frozen at the Hub facility.
Initial development is to be a modest locale, with strong expansion potential, to house a multi-use aggregation, processing, storage, and distribution facility with a commercial kitchen and cold chain storage facility dedicated to both fresh and frozen foods.
The Hub's commercial kitchen would be equipped initially to flash-freeze and vac-pack local produce surpluses in the height of the growing season for institutional sales during the winter months. SUNY Potsdam has committed support for this endeavor, and it is clear that many other institutions would come on board as well.
Building local markets for food grown in our region will reinvigorate our rural community and improve farm profitability as well as seriously impact regional food security metrics. The Hub project tackles aggregation and distribution challenges that make it difficult to get more regionally grown food into mainstream grocery chains, restaurants, and institutions.
Expansion to canning, fermentation, drying, and pickling would be promoted in the continuing phases of development. The facility could also be rented to others in need of a commercial kitchen facility.
Additionally, with equipment in place and outreach to the farm community in full swing, a boom in small-scale food processing for commercial applications is a highly credible scenario. A planned small business incubator program for value-added foods, assisted by the NY Small-Scale Food Processor's Assn., would be a boon to small local growers with entrepreneurial spirit as well.
"Robust local food systems offer social, environmental and economic benefits. Increasingly, wholesale buyers are demanding locally grown food and growers are looking for new regional markets. In order to meet the demand for locally and regionally grown food and move significant quantities of this food into markets such as restaurants, mainstream grocery stores and institutions, local food systems need to be scaled up or expanded from farmer-direct sales of small quantities of product to wholesale transactions. By scaling up, local food systems have the potential to borrow some of the economic and logistical efficiencies of the industrial food system while retaining social and environmental priorities such as sustainable agricultural practices and profitability for small- and mid-scale family farms and businesses.
To develop informed business development strategies for Wisconsin farmers and other supply chain start-ups, the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) and UW-Extension Agricultural Innovation Center studied and documented eleven models of regional food aggregation and distribution. This work was made possible by a grant from the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment."
To view the eleven models, of which we plan a synthesis, please continue to read this entry at this website:
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Phases IV and Beyond
Please note that the medium- to long-range phases of Hub development include more than just "back of the house" infrastructure development. A bricks and mortar location allows for "front of the house" opportunities: a home base for fee-based public educational programs (currently ongoing rural skills and nutritious cooking seminars); expanded opportunities for Internships; sales of locally produced goods to support the overall operation; and, a local tourism draw as a featured destination on the upcoming ANCA Heritage Trail extension in St. Lawrence County.
The current schedule of SLP Rural Skills Workshops, "Green" Home Tours, town/gown events such as Contra Dances, and seasonally-oriented Nutritious Delicious cooking seminars would have a home-base.
The successful SLP Internship Program which, in only it's first year, exposed sixteen area students to the many facets of sustainability, can be expanded once the project realizes a physical location.
The SLP works with the ANCA Scenic Byways tourism trail system expansion and develops programs about rural heritage and skills in collaboration with current partners TAUNY and other organizations.
A first rate center modeled on the NY Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua, NY, can be replicated with a unique North Country flavor, with strong potential to become a "must-see" destination serving locals and tourists alike. Depending on the location, greenhouses, botanical gardens and other amenities could serve varied educational, folkloric, and other delightful purposes such as the setting for an outdoor cafe serving local farmstuffs.
Additionally, and in the shorter term, we foresee significant expansion of the North Country role in the N.Y. Small-Scale Food Processor's Assn., providing value-added agricultural business incubator services that have the potential to rejuvenate the entire local agricultural economy, to include flagging family dairy operations.
Many other operations can be phased in over time, as need and community support dictate. Examples include an extended season (retail) Farmer's Market, a ground-breaking wholesale Farmer's Market, and a full complement of services revolving around renewable energy, "green" building, and rural life skills -- rounding out our mission and cleaving to our continuing role as founder of the 17-year strong North Country Sustainable Energy Fair.
Currently we are developing relationships with United Helpers Sparx Management Services, strategic planner Patricia Tubbs, SUNY Canton's Small Business Development Center, food systems specialist J. Huston, and the Adirondack Upstate Development Corporation for logistical support, planning and implementation.
Key staff have received Value-Added Institute certification and have been conducting fact-finding missions at key facilities elsewhere in New York State and Vermont.
It is our intent to create a shovel-ready, fully-phased project within the coming year (2012). We are pursuing funding, in-kind support and strategic partnerships with multiple community, government and non-governmental organization sources. We invite your comment and questions, and hope that you will share our goals with others on who might be interested in moving this project forward. We truly appreciate the value of your time and effort in this regard.
Very Truly Yours,
Chelle Lindahl & Melinda Ely
Click Here for: A Brief Graphic Hub Representation
Coming Soon: The Hub Power Point Presentation
Community Economic Development
As of January 31, 2012 a group of local organizations have been attending Community Economic Development (CED) meetings to collaborate on the Hub, join forces to avoid duplication in funding proposals and to provide a support network for each others' endeavors.
Current participants include: the Sustainable Living Project of the North Country, United Helpers / Sparx Management Services, North Country Grown Cooperative, GardenShare, Seedcorn, Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County, North Country Pastured, St. Lawrence Health Initiative, Grass River Heritage, Tedra L. Cobb and Associates, Blue Sphere Industries, and the Small Scale Food Processors Association.
The April 18, 2012 CED meeting features a presentation by a specialist in cooperatives, Lynda Brushett of the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) in Massachussetts. Write to us at SustLivingProject@gmail.com for more information.
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Chelle Lindahl & Melinda Ely, Co-Coordinators
Rajiv Narula, Project Organizer
Krystal White, Education & Outreach Facilitator
Sherry Long, Research & Technical Writing Associate
Chelsea Coons, Intern, SUNY Potsdam Community Health
Scott Houser and Will Chabot, Research Associates,
SLU Community-Based Learning Program
~ and over 100 volunteers assisting in valuable ways
to serve the North Country
Sustainable Living Project & Local Living Festival
Local Living Venture ~ Rural Skills Workshops
The HUB ~ Agricultural Depot & Rural Resource Center
315. 347. 4223 * PO Box 736 Canton, NY 13617
SustLivingProject@gmail.com * www.SustainableLivingProject.net
Sharing Knowledge from the Past ~ Building Skills for the Future
The Sustainable Living Project is currently a part of Seedcorn, Inc.
and will soon acquire it's own 501(c)3 non-profit educational status
Local Food for Local People