A few months ago the USDA announced the 2012 Value Added Producer Grant awards. Several farm businesses and organizations in Washington received funding including the Northwest Agriculture Business Center who received $300,000 for Regional Food System Development. With some of this funding, we’ll expand our wholesale market concept this year to further our impact through marketing, increased distribution opportunities, processing and even working with producers and logistical providers to identify efficient decentralized aggregation hubs.
In partnership with Local Orbit, a software service designed to streamline sales between local food buyers and sellers, NABC is in the process of developing and piloting four “virtual food hubs” to scale transactions between farmers and institutional and commercial food service. Producers selling through a NABC hub will have access to smart tools to increase efficiency and profitability, including e-commerce, sales & delivery tracking, and inventory management. Buyers get access to the aggregated supply of local food producers, streamlined purchasing, and a direct, traceable supply chain.
Local Orbit and NABC have worked together to conceptualize four pilot “virtual food hubs” for the Puget Sound Food Network this spring. The first two pilots will launch in May and June respectively, and will first serve PSFN members who participate in the Skagit Wholesale Market and the Farm to Table partnership. The first two pilots include:
- North Sound Wholesale Market. This online store will serve select PSFN member buyers and sellers in North counties of San Juan Island, Whatcom, Skagit and Island. The Coho Cafe at United General Hospital has agreed to serve as the first buyer. Chef Chris Johnson will pilot the site and offer feedback about ease of use for institutional foodservice. NABC staff will continue to identify decentralized aggregation and distribution solutions and will gradually work with producers to invite additional buyers and expand business to business (b2b) commerce in the region.
- Farm to Table Online Store. This online store was designed to continue the sales relationships formed as a result of PSFN’s involvement in the CPPW grant funded Farm to Table partnership led by City of Seattle Aging and Disability Services. During the new pilot, only participating PSFN member sellers will be invited to list their products for wholesale, and at least four agency partners serving low-income seniors and preschools will be authorized to make purchases during the pilot period.
Local Orbit will be responsible for providing technical support, online transactions and payments. NABC will continue working “on the ground” to recruit and retain sellers and buyers, communicating to sellers regarding inventory queries, identifying opportunities for aggregation and storage and distribution. In essence we’re creating and growing b2b relationships between producers and buyers. NABC provides business development services to producers including product development, business planning, access to financing, and marketing and sales assistance.
Get involved! NABC is currently identifying sellers within PSFN to participate in the two pilots. Local Orbit is leading a discussion on Tuesday, May 8th at 10:00 a.m to learn about their tools. If you are a producer member of PSFN and wish to learn about how the Local Orbit pilot sites will function, please contact us and we will send you a link to the online meeting. We look forward to sharing more about the developing partnership between NABC and Local Orbit. Stay tuned for updates, and for ways you can plug into this emerging marketplace.