"The Local Food Hub's director, Kate Collier, hadn't intended to get into the wholesale produce business. She and her husband, Eric Gertner, own a gourmet food store, Feast, in Charlottesville. Feast sells jams, chutneys, meats, cheeses and produce; the produce has the lowest profit margins.
In April 2008, Collier made a presentation to a panel convened by local food advocates that outlined how a new distribution system could support small farmers and improve access to their products. "I told them, 'This is where I see the holes are,' " she said. "Everybody jumped on the idea. They said if there was one phone number to call, they'd do it."
Last fall, Collier began to put a plan into action. She raised $305,000 from local foundations and individuals and established a nonprofit group. She leased a 3,100-square-foot warehouse. She bought a refrigerated truck for deliveries and purchased $3 million in liability insurance, a requirement to sell to large institutions. She also hired a staff of five to market the new organization, manage the warehouse and educate the community about the benefits of local food..."
"...The Obama administration has plans to help. The Department of Agriculture is required to put at least 5 percent of its business and industry budget into developing local production. "That's the floor," Vilsack said. "What we're looking at is how can we more effectively use [those funds] to create a whole new way of thinking about the rural economy. Be assured it's one of our priorities."
Collier projects that the Hub could turn a profit with revenue of $1.5 million annually. If all goes well, that could happen in six to eight years. In the meantime, small farmers are taking advantage of the opportunity to find broad and steady markets for their products.
"It's nice to know you don't need to have 200 acres," Down Branch Farm's Proutt said. "You can still make it work.""