Commission grants $47K for expansion of fresh food hub

Published 10:43 pm Thursday, January 9, 2014

Polk County farmers could soon get more help in selling products as the Polk County Board of Commissioners granted $47,000 to PolkFresh Food (PFF) to help the hub expand.

Commissioners met Monday, Jan. 6 and held a public hearing before approving the funding.

Commissioners heard only positive comments about granting the funding. The funding was requested for PFF, operated through the Mill Spring Agriculture Center, to become self-sufficient. PFF is currently trying to obtain nonprofit status.

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Annette Wells, manager of Fresca! market at Giardini’s, spoke during the public hearing. She brought an apple and demonstrated by cutting it into pieces how farmland is being whittled away every minute through development.

“Every minute we lose one acre of farmland to development,” Wells said. “And that for me is enough to support our farmers in Polk County.”

Jimmi Buell, with the Polk County Cooperative Extension Office, said she spends about 90 percent of her time either talking about food or preparing food and has come to the conclusion that this area is “just priceless.”

“I’ve personally spoken to about 90 percent of restaurants and they want to support local foods,” said Buell.”

Local restaurants all want local product, she said, and knowing and speaking to people in this community she thinks expanding PFF is going to benefit the community.

Polk County Cooperative Extension Director John Vining said he’s worked with farmers over 30 years and found that there are always good growers but marketing is a challenge for a lot of folks. He said right now the public is more interested in agriculture than any time in his career. All the surveys say that residents want Polk County to remain rural and to keep it rural our farms need to be viable, Vining said.

“With the growing markets this will be a good opportunity and I hope commissioners will support it,” Vining said.

Commissioners unanimously supported the funding by approving three budget amendments. The majority of the funding was taken from the county’s fund balance.

“The PolkFresh Food Hub manages the marketing and distribution of local, source-identified farm products,” states PFF’s proposal. “To structure the food hub as a stand alone entity, the PolkFresh Food Hub requests $47,000 to be disbursed in three payments during the 2013-2014 fiscal year.”

PFF requested that $17,000 be dispersed in January, $15,000 in March and $15,000 in May of this year.

The food hub’s next steps are to create a nonprofit, to create a local marketing strategy, to develop cost effective delivery, to complete a market survey, to seek outside grant funding, to hire a part-time bookkeeper, to provide technical support to farmers and to increase direct sales efforts.

Polk County Interim Agriculture Economic Development Director Dawn Jordan attended the county’s Dec. 2 meeting to present the program and ask for the funding.

PFF is a virtual food hub that manages the sourcing, marketing and distribution of local agricultural products. The distribution is done mostly online with the buyer knowing exactly where his or her food is being grown and gets the satisfaction of supporting a local farm family, Jordan said.

PFF allows a farmer/producer to list his or her products on the PFF website and the buyer is able to look at the products and order online. The farmer receives a confirmation of the order, harvests the product and brings it to the Mill Spring Agricultural Center where it is temporarily stored at proper temperatures and humidity, then delivered to the buyer within 48 hours.

Farmers set up farm profiles with a description of the farm and products grown to give buyers their story.

For more information on PFF, including placing orders and learning about local farmers, visit