The folks at the North Coast Growers’ Association are constantly dreaming up new ways to make fresh, local produce more accessible to people in our community. The NCGA’s latest venture – Harvest Hub – connects farmers with wholesale buyers in an online farmers’ market setting to make Humboldt-produced products more readily accessible to local restaurants, schools and tribal communities.
Here’s how it works: Wholesale buyers simply log onto the Harvest Hub’s online store to place their orders at the beginning of the week (between Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning) and deliveries go out the following week on Monday or Tuesday, depending on where you’re located.
The idea is to simplify the food delivery process by utilizing a single, centralized location to distribute food throughout the county, according to Megan Kenney, NCGA’s director of cooperative distribution. Buyers interact with just one point of contact and receive one invoice rather than having to organize purchases and deliveries with multiple farmers throughout the week.
“Before the food hub, wholesale buyers would have to go to the farmers’ market and kind of talk to everyone to develop relationships with individual farmers,” Kenney explained. “You know, you’re calling five different farmers every week to put your orders in and, on the other side, the farmers have to situate all of their orders. … Instead of getting five different $100 invoices, the farmers sell directly to us so they only have to write one invoice and make one delivery. Then we deliver everything that was ordered to that restaurant and bring them a single invoice. It’s really just streamlining the process for both the buyers and the farmers.”
The online store features goods from more than two dozen local producers, whose stock varies from season to season. Looking for apples? There are several varieties available from Clendenen’s Cider Works, Fiesty Dog Orchard and Luna Farms. Persimmons? McIntosh Farms has you covered. The Harvest Hub also carries Humboldt Grassfed Beef and other meat products from several local producers.
“If you’re just looking for broccoli, you can specifically search for ‘broccoli’ and find all of our farmers who are providing broccoli that week and what their prices are,” Kenney explained. “You’re also able to search by producer. If there’s a specific farmer who you know or you just really love their quality, you can search specifically for them and see everything that one farmer is growing. We’ve also got a ‘Meet the Producers’ page where you can learn more about their different growing practices. You know, are they organic? Are they regenerative? Do they use no-till practices? Some people get into detail about what motivates them to farm and some people’s [profiles] are just more basic.”
The concept for a local food hub came about shortly after the NCGA launched its Harvest Box program during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program’s success inspired the NCGA and other local stakeholders, including the Humboldt Food Policy Council and UC Cooperative Extension, to look for new ways to support Humboldt-based food producers and make it easier for farms and wholesale buyers to do business together.
The NCGA introduced its Harvest Hub pilot program in August 2022 while working closely with Food for People on its Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement pilot program, which is a USDA-funded effort to connect state and tribal governments to underserved producers. The NCGA started small, working with a few local restaurants and the Jefferson Community Center before branching out to local schools and tribes.
In October 2022, the NCGA found the perfect location for its brick-and-mortar food hub: an old cannabis processing facility on West End Road in Arcata.
“We had been looking at a warehouse in Eureka, and it was fine but it didn’t have cold storage,” Kenney said. “After the article came out [in the Outpost], I got a call from Iron Side Metalworks – one of our farmers’ market community friends – and they said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a food hub for you!’ We went out to West End Road to check it out and it turns out that cannabis and food have sort of the same sort of storage needs. It was just about a perfect match for us.”
Kenney and her team spent the next year getting the place up to snuff and, just last week, the NCGA and the chambers of North Humboldt co-hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the food hub’s official launch. The NCGA currently sources Humboldt-grown produce for numerous wholesale buyers on the North Coast, including the Blue Lake Rancheria, the Yurok Tribe, the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation and 18 local schools in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties.
When asked what’s next for the food hub, Kenney said she’s currently working out an agreement with Cal Poly Humboldt to bring more locally-produced food to campus dining facilities.
“We just had a couple of their chefs come out to the food hub the other day to take a tour and talk about what it looks like to switch some of their procurement locally,” she said. “They got to go in and look at some of the food from our farmers and they were just pulling these heads of lettuces out saying, ‘Oh, beautiful! I can’t wait until this is the produce that we’re getting.’ It’s so cool to see someone from a large institution like Cal Poly [Humboldt] get so excited about our farmers’ produce.”
NCGA staff will host a workshop at the Harvest Hub (5720 West End Road, Building 2, in Arcata) on Dec. 7 to go over the basics of wholesale produce distribution for buyers and producers, as well as financial projections for determining wholesale prices in the coming year.
“This workshop, which could be an annual workshop that we run, is sort of geared towards beginner farmers who are just doing direct sales or maybe they’re doing a small amount of wholesale,” Kenney said. “The idea is to give them the tools that they need to incorporate more wholesale into their business if they want to.”
More information about Harvest Hub and upcoming workshops can be found here.