Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nashville Grown, a Nonprofit 'Food Hub,' Aims to Connect Farmers and Restaurants

Posted By on Wed, Aug 22, 2012 at 5:43 AM

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Some dedicated local agriculture advocates are working to launch a nonprofit “food hub” next month, a first for Nashville's farm-to-table movement.

Food hubs, which already exist in dozens of cities, assist small local farms by providing them with services to help them market their products. In this case, that means launching an online store to connect Nashville-area farms with restaurants and renting refrigerated space at the Nashville Farmers’ Market where produce can be stored for pickup or delivery to restaurant customers.

The project is called Nashville Grown, and organizers hope the system will go live near the beginning of September. I first heard about it from Laura Wilson of the Grow Local Kitchen at the Nashville Farmers’ Market. As a chef, she knows firsthand how eager restaurants are to secure fresh produce but how difficult the logistics are when it comes to connecting chefs and farmers. “They both work 60-hour weeks already, and they’re on opposite schedules,” Wilson says.

Wilson is serving as a volunteer consultant for Nashville Grown. Another key person is Sarah Johnson, a 2009 Stanford University grad who studied international food policy in Washington, D.C., before moving to Nashville to work on urban food initiatives here.

Also active in the project are Jenny Vaughn Harrison of FEAST Together (which works to create community kitchens in Nashville) and Alan Powell, a very popular figure in the local produce movement in Nashville, who’s been bringing farmers and restaurants together for six years. (He’s like a one-man food hub himself.)

Eventually, Nashville Grown hopes to connect farms to schools, institutions and grocery stores. (The group is not immediately planning to serve individual consumers since that service is already provided by CSAs and farmers markets.)

Johnson said Nashville Grown has many more projects to launch down the road, but right now they’re focused on activating the website by Sept. 3. She’s also still looking to hear from restaurants, farms (with less than 100 cultivated acres located within 100 miles of Nashville) and anybody willing to help with time or donations. (There's a link on the website to a Fundly campaign where you can donate.

For updates, check the website or follow Urban Grown on Facebook or Twitter. For more info, email sarah[at]nashvillegrown[dot]org.

A version of this story appeared in the Food Biz column in this week's print edition of The City Paper and online in the Nashville Post.

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