Douglas County will use two grants awarded today to produce a blueprint for expanding market opportunities for northeast Kansas farmers.
The county will use a $58,250 award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Enterprise Grant program and a $10,000 matching grant from the Kansas Health Foundation to hire a consultant to complete a market feasibility study for a regional food hub.
“Our goal is to have some hard data to make some decisions by this time next year,” said Eileen Horn, sustainability coordinator for the county.
The county’s Food Policy Council identified a food hub as a “missing link” in the region’s food system. Small- and medium-sized growers need a place to process, store and distribute their food products so that they can market to institutional buyers such as schools, hospitals and grocery stores.
“Many of our small- and medium-sized producers want to scale up to serve a wider market, but they lack the infrastructure to do so,” said Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman.
The feasibility study will evaluate the current supply and demand for locally produced food products and quantify the extent to which a food hub could increase both, Horn said.
“Take tomato producers for example. If eight of them start selling to the food hub, they may be able to produce enough to meet the needs of an institutional food provider like KU (University of Kansas) Dining Services,” she said. “But farmers are not going to scale up their production until they know they have a buyer.”
A food hub in Douglas County could have a regional impact, creating new markets for producers and healthier food options for consumers in 15 additional northeast Kansas counties, Horn said.
In addition to Douglas, the counties that could potentially benefit are: Wyandotte, Johnson, Leavenworth, Jefferson, Atchison, Brown, Nemaha, Doniphan, Shawnee, Franklin, Osage, Miami, Jackson, Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee.
The Kansas Health Foundation is the primary funder of the Kansas Health Institute, which is the parent organization of KHI News Service.
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