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Food hub could link Galt farms, consumers

GHS ag teacher brings hub idea to city council, Chamber of Commerce

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Dane White

Posted: Friday, September 21, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:57 am, Fri Sep 21, 2012.

Imagine a place you could go to buy milk produced solely by Galt dairies, or salad dressing home-made by a St. Christopher's Catholic Church parishioner. What about vegetables plucked from community gardens located around the city?

It could be a reality.

Galt High School agriculture teacher Dane White is working with Mayor Barbara Payne, with the goal of creating a regional food hub in Galt.

The idea is to put local farmers directly in touch with community members who eat the food they produce by filling a common gap in the supply chain connecting food to consumer tables. Commonly known as the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, there are an estimated 170 food hubs throughout the country with many concentrated in the Midwest, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

"It sounds very 'pie in the sky,' but research says it works in communities like Galt," White told the Galt City Council on Tuesday. "People want local food ... if we can get it to them."

Food hubs have become more popular since the idea was first launched by the USDA. Officials found consumers have increasingly been looking to buy locally grown food, but farmers and other producers do not have a way to get it in their hands, as many small businesses lack trucks, refrigerated units or large warehouses of their own.

Galt's hub would also create jobs and generate revenue as locally grown produce is sold. White said the ideal location would be in downtown Galt, where small businesses could lease space.

Start-up costs are estimated at $1 million, White said, but federal funding may be available through the USDA's Community Food Project or other programs.

A similar fruit and vegetable hub known as "Soil Born" was launched in the Sacramento-area community of Rancho Cordova in 2009 with a $240,000 USDA grant. Today, it not only grows and sells produce at a permanent location near the American River, but it also mentors young growers and holds regular educational classes to teach people how to farm.

But White wants to take it one step further and develop a brand to market the city of Galt and sell local the products in the Bay Area, similar to what the Capay Valley has done in recent years. A farm shop located in Vacaville's popular Nut Tree shopping center sells food the region has branded as their own organic products.

"It's all about vision: What can Galt become?" White said. "It would be great if we could grow this into something special ... (food hubs) draw people in."

The next steps include speaking with the Sacramento Farm Bureau and local farmers, he said.

He has already been in discussion with Frank Gayaldo, the new executive director of the Galt Chamber of Commerce, about ways to market the idea — possibly including exporting Galt-branded food through the Port of Stockton.

"From a destination marketing standpoint alone, I think the plan has a lot of merit and value. If there were a longer-term export and domestic distribution plan component added, this could also be the beginning of a significant job creator," Gayaldo said in an email.

"I especially like the idea that the food hub lowers the barrier of entry for aspiring entrepreneurs," he added. "Could this idea be economically feasible? I want to say 'yes,' but I am not sure yet."

White has also met with Payne and city planner Chris Erias.

The hub will further involve Galt High School students as the project progresses, White said, adding that they already helped develop the proposed plan. In the future they could perform product development and testing.

"I'm excited if we can just get a product vision. I think one of the goals of a high school is to be embedded in its community," White said. "This gets kids connected to Galt and the city's future.

"Right now (the food hub idea) is really in the hands of the city council, but I'm hoping they'll run with it."

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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