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Through Grant, Extension Helps Fresh Connect Food Hub Grow

“What about a food hub?”

This is the question Dana Reith, Jane Eastes, and Melissa Mattson of Lakes County Service Cooperative (LCSC) asked in 2012. Two years later, they had established the Fresh Connect Food Hub in Fergus Falls — an effort that included a 12-week pilot season during which more than 34,000 pounds of produce from nine farms were distributed to 12 school districts, a hospital, and a nursing home in West Central Minnesota. Growers anticipate distributing an even greater volume of produce by the end of the food hub’s second season later this fall.

What Is a Food Hub?
Food hubs aggregate and distribute regionally grown produce from small and medium-sized growers, connecting growers with customers and assisting with product marketing and delivery.

Fresh Connect Food Hub Produce

The Fresh Connect Food Hub was facing opportunities for growing its pool of growers and buyers and for developing processes, such as food safety protocols and training sessions. These processes were designed to support Fresh Connect as it grew, as well as other developing Minnesota food hubs.

Extension’s Role
In the fall 2014, Noelle Harden, Extension educator, health and nutrition, and partners from LCSC were awarded a University of Minnesota Extension Issue Area Grant to further the existing partnership between Extension and LCSC — a partnership initiated by the University’s Northwest and Southwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.

Dana and Melissa process produce.

With the grant funding, Noelle and partners from LCSC launched the Fresh Connect Learning Laboratory, a project to support Fresh Connect Food Hub and to expand the capacity of Extension to support developing food hubs in Minnesota. As a result, Extension staff members have been engaged in the development of the Fresh Connect Food Hub, both by teaching others in workshops and food safety site visits, and by learning from others via evaluations and reflections from the 2014 season.

What’s Next
LCSC has identified the expansion of services for growers as a critical method for relationship-building in the future, and as an area where Extension can provide additional support. LCSC and Extension staff involved in the issue area grant have also identified other areas for future training, capacity building, and mutual learning.

For more information on LCSC, visit Lakes County Services Cooperative: About Us. You can follow the food hub on Facebook: Fresh Connect Food Hub.


Harden, N. (2015). Fresh Connect Issue Area Grant: February 2015 Mid-Year Report. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota.

Harden, N. (2015). Fresh Connect Issue Area Grant: July 2015 Annual Report. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota.

Hubert, M. (2014, April 7). Food hub grows on local schoolsFergus Falls Journal.
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