Foothills Food Hub planners seek partnership with county

On Monday, representatives with the Foothills Food Hub formally asked the McDowell County Commissioners to be partners in their effort to establish a place that would address the problem of food insecurity in our community, promote healthier eating and help farmers across the region with getting more of their fresh foods on people’s tables.

Although no formal action was taken, the commissioners indicated they are supportive of this effort.

During Monday’s regular meeting, county officials heard a presentation from Heather Edwards, who is project developer of the food hub.

This facility will be located within a 9,000-square-foot section at the new home for Nebo Crossing. That large and active church bought the former Spectrum Dyed Yarns plant, located at 263 Barnes Road, and is now renovating that massive building to become the new location for this growing congregation and its community outreach programs.

As part of this, Nebo Crossing is partnering with the McDowell Local Food Advisory Council by donating the 9,000-square-foot space within its new location for the Foothills Food Hub. This is being done under a 15-year lease with the church.

When it is complete, the hub will have:

• Food pantry storage and packing

• Farm fresh produce wash line, cold storage and distribution

• A teaching kitchen for cooking and other classes

• A commercial kitchen for meal preparation, value added processing and food entrepreneur development.

It will be there for restaurant owners who wish to become more of the farm-to-table movement and local churches providing food for the hungry in our community. Through the hub, small business owners will have a place to make their food products. It won’t be available to just farmers and food-related business owners from McDowell County but to others across the region as well.

The hub will have refrigerators, freezers and other equipment needed for the storage of food. It will be a central place where local pantries and ministries can get food items from MANNA FoodBank in Asheville.

In her presentation, Edwards said the Foothills Food Hub is needed because there are 334 farms in McDowell and a recent survey by the local Cooperative Extension found 83 percent of local farmers are interested in increasing their sales. In the same survey, 91 percent of those farmers said they sometimes or more often had more product than demand.

Meanwhile, 25.8 percent of children in McDowell live in households that are food insecure or in other words, they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Statistics show 59 percent of the children in McDowell live in poor or low-income homes and 15 percent of the total population is food insecure. Adult obesity in McDowell is 27 percent, according to Edwards’ presentation.

“Using data from 2011 to 2013, researchers estimated that those experiencing food insecurity have an extra $1,863 in health care expenditures each year, compared to their food-secure counterparts,” she said in her presentation. “This translates to $77.5 billion in excess annual health care expenditures among those with food insecurity.”

But this Foothills Food Hub is estimated to be a $1.3 million effort. It will need large coolers and freezers for the proper storage of food and the interior space will require a renovation.

In a previous interview, Edwards said she and the other leaders of this effort are now seeking grants from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the McDowell Endowment, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Golden Leaf Foundation.

A series of local fund-raising events at local businesses in Marion are being planned for every month from March through October. On March 17, Spillway Bridge & Co. will donate a percentage of its sales at its taproom for the Foothills Food Hub, said Edwards, which drew applause from the crowd at the commission meeting.

In her presentation, Edwards asked the commissioners to contribute $75,000 in county money to help get the Foothills Food Hub started with construction. This would allow the planners of the hub to be in a better position to get a $150,000 grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, she added.

Edwards plans to give a similar presentation to the Marion City Council and ask them for support too.

Although they did not take formal action on that request, county officials said they support this effort and want to see it become a reality.

“The food hub is something the board has a very high interest in,” said Commission Chairman David Walker on Tuesday. “We are very interested in what we can do.”

Walker added Edwards gave a good presentation and the commissioners would have to consider this with all the other budget requests as they work on the plan for fiscal year 2019-2020.

“We are going to continue to move things forward and the board sees the food hub as another way to help people in McDowell County with food insecurity needs and food preparation,” he said.

He added a big plus is the fact the food hub organizers have a site secured under a 15-year lease.

The hub is a project of McDowell LFAC, which is now designated as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. Commissioner Brenda Vaughn is the chairwoman for the McDowell LFAC.

“At this time, I feel all I can say on this is, the food hub is one of the most promising opportunities offered to our county that will fill a growing need in our community and will also be a great asset for surrounding counties,” said Vaughn on Tuesday. “I can’t begin to predict what the recommendation from our county manager together with our finance officer will be as far as exact amounts of financial assistance the county can offer. I can say our commission stands in support of food securities and healthy living. Again, I am sure we will be seeking the recommendations from our county manager and move forward from there.”

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