A Beautiful World: Food hubs provide a critical link for small farmers

Helping small farms survive by working together

 A view of The Good Acre building on a sunny day.
The Good Acre, a non-profit food hub in Falcon Heights, Minn..
Courtesy of The Good Acre

Imagine that you had a small farm, just an acre or two. And let's say you grow turnips. You don't grow enough turnips to supply a grocery store year-round, and relying on summertime farmers’ markets is not sustainable. Plus, when you do have turnips to sell, they’re hard to keep fresh. You don't have the big refrigerated walk-in coolers needed to store them until they get to market.

So what do you do? How do you sell your turnips?

A Beautiful World
Food Hubs like the Good Acre provide a critical link in a sustainable farming network, by allowing small farmers to pool resources and reach multiple markets.

One way is through a food hub. Food hubs allow small farms and farmers to get their produce and products to people, restaurants, schools and wholesalers, by working together, pooling resources and sharing the expense of storage, distribution and marketing.

One such hub is the Good Acre in Falcon Heights, Minn. Nikki Warner, communications director, says a small farmer who grows turnips and sells them two or three days a week at a farmer's market might sell only 40 percent of his or her crop. The Good Acre can help. It provides resources and connections that allow small farmers to reach multiple new outlets, customers and markets.

“Whether we are selling extra turnips to a kimchi maker, who can ferment it and sell it at a co-op, or to a school who can roast the turnips and make a really cool dipping sauce, we are making those wholesale connections so farmers don't have to,” Warner said.

As a matter of fact there’s a kimchi maker who works out of the Good Acre. Galen Kanazawa, owner of Fierce Ferments, makes kimchi with live fermented ingredients, from a traditional family recipe.

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“We needed refrigerated storage space in particular,” Kanazawa recalls. “So I reached out to a local grower to see if I could use their refrigerated storage space, and they said, ‘No, but have you have you heard of the good Acre?’”

Galen was able to find space there and now produces kimchi, pickles and sauerkraut in its kitchens. He also uses its large walk-in coolers to keep his live produce fresh.

It’s one of many examples of how small farmers and food producers can access the infrastructure they need to reach larger markets without having to make costly upgrades on their own land. Warner says many of the local farmers in the Twin Cities don't even own their land, so it's cost-prohibitive to get things like coolers, freezers and enough space to sort and distribute their products.

The Good Acre volunteers box up vegetables for distribution.
The Good Acre volunteers box up vegetables.
Courtesy of The Good Acre

Another artisanal food maker is Rachel Banken, who creates a delicious line of organic teas at the Good Acre, called Well-Rooted Teas.

“Over 90 percent of my ingredients come within 100 miles of here,” Banken says. “So my teas are all herbal teas, which means there's no caffeine in them. And I source my ingredients from small, sustainable organic farmers.”

She says she loves creating her teas at a food hub because of the sense of community and connection it brings her.

“When you walk in, you just immediately can tell this is a place that's run by people who take their environmental commitment and their commitment to the local agriculture economy very seriously,” Banken says. “These people are working really hard and they're so knowledgeable at what they do.”

The Good Acre provides space for the community too. It offers culinary training, cooking classes, farm shares, seminars and events that support the local farming community. Nikki Warner says at the end of the day, the hub is trying to build an alternative food system to “Big Ag.”

“You know there are ways to support farmers, from the tea in your cup, to the kimchi in your scrambled eggs, to what your kids are eating in school,” she says.

A brochure listing programs at The Good Acre food hub.
Diverse programs at The Good Acre support farmers and their customers.
Courtesy of The Good Acre

Forty unique food products are created and distributed through Good Acre, and 78 cents of each farm share dollar goes back to farmers. Ninety thousand pounds of produce are delivered to public schools every year. Food Hubs like the Good Acre are critical links in a sustainable food network. They work hard to keep farming alive.

Nikki Warner says the Good Acre seeks to bridge a gap in our food system.

“If we don't have farms, then we don't have local food,” she says. By helping farmers earn a fair wage, the Good Acre and other hubs hope to enable them to “keep doing what they're doing — being stewards of their land.”

The side of a delivery truck sports the The Good Acre name and logo
A delivery truck for The Good Acre, a non-profit food hub in Falcon Heights, Minn.
Courtesy of The Good Acre