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Food hub gets funding boost

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GREENFIELD — The Hoosier Harvest Market has landed enough funding to keep the so-called food hub viable for the near future, local officials say.

The online ordering service that brings farmers together to market their crops directly to consumers was in a state of flux for months, as start-up grants were drying up, and county officials were hesitant to fork over taxpayer money to match a new grant.

But two businesses stepped up to bridge the gap, making for a private-public partnership that agricultural officials say means the food hub is here to stay.

Farm Credit Mid-America Cooperative and Home News Enterprises – the parent company of the Daily Reporter – each contributed $5,000 to the program. The $10,000 was put into a city fund, and last month the Greenfield City Council signed off on a resolution for the funds to match a $50,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

The $60,000 total will pay for a market coordinator, the online subscription and other materials needed to keep the project thriving until it can become self-sustained, said Roy Ballard, Purdue Extension educator for Hancock County.

Ballard said he is grateful the businesses came forward with funds for a local match. Twice this spring the food hub had been turned down by county officials who were hesitant to use taxpayer money to support a business enterprise. That’s why the private funds were sought, he said.

“We’re very pleased the city stepped up,” Ballard added. “And it was consistent with the mission they were trying to accomplish.”

City officials hope to make farm-to-table efforts part of the theme of the downtown district. A downtown revitalization plan approved earlier this year calls for a section of the district dedicated to fresh produce.

 The city council unanimously passed the resolution to create a fund for the private donations. The USDA grant required a local government entity to back the effort.

“Because of our downtown revitalization plan and our desire to create our own economic development from the local food market, … we thought it was a good match,” said Joanie Fitzwater, city planner.

Jeff Brown, president of Home News Enterprises, said in an email that there is a growing movement in the state and country to better connect local consumers with locally grown foods. The Hoosier Harvest Market is a start-up trying to make that connection efficiently.

“If they can figure out the business model, it will be a win for local farmers, local consumers, the local economy in Greenfield and possibly serve as a model for others to follow,” Brown said.

There are 42 vendors with the Hoosier Harvest Market, which is based out of the Hancock County Purdue Extension office, and nearly 700 shoppers since it started last year. The market charges vendors a $150 fee to sell, and Ballard said extension officials will have to figure out how to make sure the project can become self-sustaining in the years to come.

“As this market grows, we have to grow the supply-and-demand sides together,” he said. “It’s very important that we grow slowly so we don’t have more demand than products, and vice versa …. Growth over time will increase the dollars.”

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