The Worcester Regional Food Hub’s Aggregation, Marketing, and Distribution segment provides greater market opportunities by offering logistical support to help increase the produce purchased by local institutions, as well as the amount of affordable, local, healthy food available in underserved communities.
As sales manager for this program, Susannah Hinman journeyed back home to Massachusetts where she grew up in Seekonk after serving in a variety of wholesale foods and restaurant experiences in Charlotte, North Carolina and farming stints in Vermont after attending Emerson College.
“Going into organic farming in Vermont shaped my passion to be part of the food industry, but growing vegetables is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week job,” says Hinman. “My mission here is to support the local food economy.”
Hinman’s immediate goals involve enhancing farming, consumer and supplier bases by building longer-term relationships. For example, the Food Hub has aggregated produce from farms such as Bolton Orchards and Oakdale Farm and distributed produce to local institutions such as the Worcester Public Schools, the Worcester County Food Bank, and Black Seed Farmers Market.
One way to further develop this avenue, Hinman adds, is by tapping into the seasonal challenges businesses face such as Carlson Farms in Harvard. Like many area growers, Carlson Farms suffered through the long drought last season, causing its apple crop yield to be smaller-sized. Through a partnership with the Worcester Public Schools, however, the farm was able to supply kids with the perfect snack-sized apples.
With 10 farmers and five producers now on board at the Food Hub, Hinman is looking to form new partnerships with another 10 farmers who have expressed interest. She adds that a new $500,000 grant from the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts will also enable the Food Hub to better collect local produce from area farms and then distribute it in local schools. To help with that distribution, a new 16-foot refrigerator truck was purchased by the Worcester County Food Bank in 2017.