The USDA has awarded Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC) a major grant for an 18-month study about creating a food hub to aggregate, store, process, and distribute locally-produced agricultural products to consumers in the greater Walla Walla Valley
The $133,566 Local Food Promotion Program Grant’s ultimate goal is to obtain a warehouse, cooler, processing equipment, and freezer space to produce more agricultural products for local and regional consumption, especially for institutions and retailers. Cultivating a stronger local food economy is expected to create jobs, invigorate small farms and businesses, and keep dollars circulating in our regional community.
BMAC is the lead agency for the Walla Walla Valley Food Systems Coalition, a partnership of local food producers, consumers, distributors and support organizations in the Walla Walla, Columbia and Umatilla tri-county area working together to build a more vibrant local food distribution system.
Ten regional organizations have committed to supporting this study and helped fulfill the 25% match requirement. Those agencies are Arrowleaf Consulting, Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, Harvest Foods, Port of Columbia, Sustainable Living Center, Walla Walla County Conservation District, Walla Walla Grown, Walla Walla Valley Farm to School, Walla Walla Valley Food Coalition, and the WSDA Regional Markets Program.
“The partners hypothesize that a synergistic relationship exists based on the common value that local food production and consumption brings health and wealth benefits to individuals and the community” said Jeff Mathias, BMAC Food Bank Director.
Food hubs are a crucial, yet often invisible part, of the local food system by helping small farms grow and large commodity farms reach a more local consumer by offering a combination of production, distribution, and marketing services.
The planned hub would integrate BMAC Food Bank’s needs in the planning process, building on decades of effort by Valley groups and individuals to develop a collaborative food cluster, said BMAC CEO Kathy Covey. The BMAC Food Bank supplies food for those in need the same tri-county area. Food from multiple community food drives, gleaning projects, grocery rescue, Second Harvest, and the USDA is stored in the BMAC Food Bank warehouse and distributed through multiple local programs.
Competition for this grant was strong, and BMAC was one of 44 grants awarded nationwide. The grant review panel remarked on the “comprehensive wide scope of partners” and “significant number of support letters,” which “speaks to the project’s likelihood for success.”
“While BMAC was awarded this grant, it was a community effort that made it happen, and it will be the community that benefits from the outcomes,” Mathias said.