The High Country Food Hub is excited to announce it reached a milestone of $2 million in sales since the online marketplace’s establishment in April 2017.
This is a story of how over 100 local food producers, 4750 consumers, and scores of partner organizations came together to create a model resilience strategy.
Operated by Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, the High Country Food Hub provides an online year-round market for High Country consumers to purchase local food products from the comfort of their homes and pick them up at convenient locations in Watauga, Avery and Ashe counties.
Caroline Stahlschmidt, a Food Hub customer and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture board member, spoke of why buying local is important to her, “I love cooking nutritious meals for myself and my family. Starting with locally grown, in-season vegetables, and locally raised meat and eggs makes every meal delicious. Locally grown food always tastes better and it’s more nutritious. It’s a win all around.”
How It Began
The Food Hub grew out of a need by farmers to sell more of their vegetables and pasture-raised meats. Through a collaboration with Watauga County government, Watauga County Cooperative Extension, and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, the Food Hub started in 2016 with a walk-in freezer and small walk-in cooler at the Watauga Agricultural Center.
By the Spring of 2017, the Hub launched its online marketplace with a few dozen meat and value-added products from a handful of farms. Consumers can now find over 3,000 products from 85+ food producers throughout the year.
“For several farmers, the Food Hub was their first exposure to direct sales. After diving in and working with the Food Hub, many have expanded the produce and products they offer and are growing their farm businesses. In this way, the Hub has been an incubator for new ag-business,” said Jim Hamilton, County Cooperative Extension Director of Watauga County.
A Resilience Strategy
Reaching $2 million in sales means as much for the local community as it does for the High Country Food Hub. Dollars spent at the Hub are dollars that go back into the hands of the more than 85 farmers and food producers who sell through the online market.
Liz Whiteman, Operations Director for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, said of the milestone, “Money spent at the Food Hub is money that would have otherwise left our community and gone to national corporations. Instead, those resources stay here in the High Country, are invested in our neighbors and make the local economy more resilient.”
For every dollar spent at the Food Hub, 84 cents goes directly to producers in our community.
Those producers then use their dollars to buy feed and farm supplies from locally-owned stores and hire local accountants, mechanics, and other businesses in our community–keeping food dollars in our region.
The Food Hub as a resilience strategy came into focus at the onset of the pandemic. As grocery store shelves emptied and consumers sought socially-distanced ways to support their neighbors, the Food Hub’s revenues increased by 6.71x from Jan-Feb to April-May, 2020.
Since then, the Hub and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture have worked to establish additional ways to make shopping for local food even more accessible by adding convenient pickup locations throughout the region, expanding its Double Up Food Bucks program, and partnering with food pantries to provide free healthy food boxes to our neighbors.
This has had real impacts on area growers. “The Food Hub’s growth has helped us maintain revenue streams and cash flow during traditionally slower times of the year for farm goods,” said James Wilkes from Faith Mountain Farms, “We look forward to continued growth as the public continues to shift a portion of their weekly consumption to local products.”
None of the Hub’s success could have been possible without support from Watauga County government, Watauga County Cooperative Extension, the Town of Boone, Heifer USA, Carolina Farm Credit, the Appalachian Regional Commission, Watauga County Economic Development Commission, Resourceful Communities, Appalachian State University’s Catering Services, Dr. Pepper of West Jefferson, and the Golden LEAF Foundation as well as over 100 local food producers and 4750 consumers and partnerships with F.A.R.M. Cafe, Hunger & Health Coalition, Casting Bread Ministries, AppHealthCare, Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce, the Watauga Food Council, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, and Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.
“We all want and need our local farms to do well. Supporting them through the Food Hub is one way to help them succeed,” said customers Kathy and Wade Reece, “The Food Hub unites local growers and makers with the public, giving us an awesome opportunity to experience high quality, super fresh, handmade, and organic foods every week!”
About The High Country Food Hub
The High Country Food Hub, operated by Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, is an online retailer for local farmers and food producers that provides community members an opportunity to access quality, local products all year long.
The High Country Food Hub is expanding its reach and customers can pick up their orders in Blowing Rock, Banner Elk, Vilas/Zionville, West Jefferson, and Boone. To learn more about the High Country Food Hub, please visit Facebook @HighCountryFoodHub, Instagram @highcountryfoodhub, or www.highcountryfoodhub.org/.
About Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture Formed in 2003, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA) is a women-led organization that builds an equitable, sustainable High Country local food system by supporting producers and cultivating community connections that educate, inspire, and increase the demand for local food. To learn more about BRIWA, please visit Facebook @BRWIA, Instagram @brwia, or www.brwia.org.
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