Nonprofit Community Food Hub & Education Center
- By Matt Frank -
What do you get when you mix food access, hands-on sustainable agriculture education, and independent local farmer incubation? Three words: community-food-hub! The Good Acre is a nonprofit community food hub and education center designed to “advance education and access for all consumers to locally grown produce in the Twin Cities….with an emphasis placed on supporting low-income, immigrant, independent farmers”. Launched in October 2015, The Good Acre’s brand new facility sits at the nexus of the University of Minnesota (UMN) St. Paul campus’ agricultural research fields, two major urban centers, and the surrounding suburbs. The Good Acre facility contains office space, storage and production space, a food warehouse, a commercial kitchen, and a training classroom. The facility acts as a holistic space for sustainable agriculture advocacy, education, and support services where farmers and community can come together to eat, cook, work, learn, and share.
The Pohlad Family Foundation, a well-known Twin Cities institution, began forming the organization roughly four years ago. They envisioned The Good Acre as a place where healthy, nutritious, whole foods could be brought into the community while improving access to markets for small local farmers. During the 2015 growing season, The Good Acre operated a successful community supported agriculture (CSA) model, which continues to serve as one of their main programs. Since its formation, they’ve received a lot of great community, business, and academic support from partners including the Farmers’ Legal Action Group, Co-op Partners Warehouse, the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Food Association, and the Hmong American Farmers Association, among others.
The Good Acre staff consists of seven main people including Executive Director Rhys Williams; Director of Kitchen Operations Emily Paul; Sales & CSA Director Sarah Libertus; CSA, Wholesale & Warehouse Assistant Anna Richardson; Warehouse Manager Nick Mabe; Farmers Market Manager Kajsa Beatty; and Bookkeeper & Office Manager Andrew Bernhardt. Each staff member brings years of experience in farming, gardening, community food systems, consulting, nonprofit management, and food production. Part-time student interns from the nearby University campus round out the team.
PRODUCTS & SERVICES
The food hub’s mission is “to enhance how food is grown and shared in the Twin Cities region, to improve marketplace opportunities for diverse independent farmers, and to increase access for all consumers to healthy, locally grown fresh produce.”In order to do this, they provide farmers with access to assets that typically require large upfront financial investments such as warehousing, storage, and processing facilities. Access to healthy food is available to area residents through a CSA and at an on-site farmers market where partner farmers are able to distribute their produce and goods. Rounding out the mission, the organization provides both farmers and community members with access to a commercial kitchen and large classroom. These spaces serve as hands-on training and educational venues for teaching people about the environmental and human health benefits that sustainable agricultural practices can provide.
WAREHOUSE, STORAGE & PROCESSING SPACE
Rhys refers to The Good Acre’s warehouse as the “farmers playground”. Coolers and walk in freezers are available for farmers to rent and use. Discounted rental fees are available to nonprofit growers. This space fills an often overlooked gap in the local foods system. It was built with food safety in mind in order to make it as easy as possible for farmers to safely wash, package, and store their fruits and vegetables. The space is certified as an organic processing facility. The Good Acre plans to add additional processing equipment to the space so that farmers have access to cutting, dicing, and slicing machines for producing value-added goods. Fierce Ferments, a local Kimchi maker, is utilizing The Good Acre to produce and store their products and will soon be joined by other local food producers in the near future.
CSA & FARMERS MARKET
The CSA model is one in which farmers are paid a flat upfront cost by people searching for access to healthy, locally grown produce and a direct relationship with the farmers who grow it. CSA share pickup locations can be found throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul and nearby suburbs as well as at The Good Acre facility. Each week during the growing season, CSA customers receive a box of fresh, sustainably grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs. CSA members also have the option of purchasing additional value-added edible goods such as honey and breads as part of their shares.
The Good Acre sold 175 CSA shares in 2015 and 250 shares in 2016. Their CSA season runs for 19 weeks, from early June through mid-October. By buying local, residents are making a commitment to both the farmers involved with The Good Acre and their community. This economic business model keeps more money within the local economy than conventional industrial-scale agricultural practices while directly supporting independent farmers.
During the recent 2016 CSA season, The Good Acre partnered with Building Blocks, a local housing development on the Northside of Minneapolis. Through this partnership they donated CSA shares to eight families and helped them prepare their vegetables with easy recipes and hands on cooking demonstrations. The Good Acre is also interested in partnering with the University of Minnesota to provide nearby students, faculty, and staff with access to CSA micro-shares.
2016 was The Good Acre’s inaugural year of its on-site weekly farmers market. Vendors included some of the CSA farmers, producers of value-added goods, and others. This proved to be another great way for Twin City residents to gain access to nutritious foods and meet the farmers who grow it. It also provided an additional outlet for farmers to sell their goods and as a way for farmers and community members to meet and interact.
COMMERCIAL KITCHEN & CLASSROOM
The commercial kitchen space at The Good Acre contains gas ranges, ovens, produce and hand washing sinks, fridges, freezers, prep spaces, and kitchen equipment. It hosts cooking classes and farmer trainings taught by third-parties and is also being used as a space for farmers and producers to create value-added products in-house. A requirement in place ensures that all produce used within the kitchen for classes and trainings comes from partner farmers that The Good Acre supports and works with. Farmers are also encouraged to host classes in the kitchen space using the food that they grow.
The classroom overlooks the commercial kitchen and serves as a community learning space. The Good Acre hosts weekly cooking classes offering sessions on everything from bread making to how to use a whole chicken taught by Scot Pampuch, Executive Chef at the University of Minnesota. They’ve hosted top local chefs and offer a wide variety of classes broadly focused on various sustainable agricultural topics. To date, groups such as the UMN Center for Spirituality & Healing, UMN Extension, University medical students, Appetite for Change, Minnesota Hunger Initiative, and the Women’s Environmental Institute have hosted classes there. Courses have included beginning farmer and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) trainings. Registration fees for classes held in the kitchen and classroom spaces are kept relatively affordable to allow greater access to them both.
The Good Acre is a wonderful community asset that addresses gaps in our region’s food system while providing space where good food, independent farmers, and residents come together. Show your support and check out their farmers market or sign up for an upcoming class or 2017 CSA share. Three cheers to healthy food, healthy environments, and healthy communities!