KVCC Food Innovation Center awarded significant USDA grant

ValleyHUB, the food hub at the Kalamazoo Community College Food Innovation Center, will be better positioned to scale up after receiving a grant for $271,058 over the next three years from the United States Department of Agriculture. 

The grant will fund a full-time Food Hub Outreach and Marketing Coordinator, a large industrial vegetable dicer for the food hub, and continuation of food safety training and certification efforts for farms. The Food Hub Outreach and Marketing Coordinator position soon will be posted here

The new funding will also allow ValleyHUB to increase flexibility to better serve institutional customers like Kalamazoo Public Schools, Western Michigan University, Bronson Hospital, and the school's own culinary operations, says Rachel Bair, Director of Kalamazoo Valley’s Food Innovation Center. 

Bair says institutions like hospitals and schools in Southwest Michigan want to buy food from local, small and mid-size diversified farms, but find it challenging to do so.

 “ValleyHUB already connects these customers with farms. However, we still need to invest in product development, farmer food safety training, and equipment to increase processing capacity in order to fully meet the local demand,” Bair says.

ValleyHUB is a farm, food hub, and education center based at 224 E. Crosstown Parkway, at the Food Innovation Center at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. At the center’s farm, staff and students test new and innovative methods for year-round vegetable growing. 

“We anticipate this new focus will create interest in new training, internship, and job opportunities for our students and graduates who go to work with these partners,” says Bair.

In the food hub, fresh produce from local farms is lightly processed and distributed to local customers. The training center offers programs in food safety, produce handling, and production methods to help growers and food handlers innovate and succeed.

 “Our goal is to get more healthy fresh foods onto more plates in Southwest Michigan,” says Bair.

The award was announced on Sept. 18 and is part of a $102.7 million USDA investment meant to increase opportunities for farmers, ranchers and other growers across the country. The funding, dispersed through five different grant programs, supports a variety of locally-led projects intended to expand markets for local food promotion and specialty crops.

ValleyHUB was one of two funding recipients in the state of Michigan and one of 44 projects nationwide to receive funds. The other recipient, Michigan State University, received $285,036 to create a formal marketing and logistics network for Michigan food hubs. Long term impacts of this project include new market and distribution channels for local Michigan products, increased sales for hubs and their growers, and improved healthy food access in Michigan communities.

Source: Kalamazoo Valley Community College
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Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.