Reflections as the Seasons Change
Usha Thakrar, Executive Director
Winter is a time when we take a step back from the frantic pace of the farming season to reflect and plan. This past winter that process was particularly critical -- fall has been eye-opening for me as I think about who we are and where we are headed as an organization.
Our Food Hub Manager, Annie, had a baby in September and it made the most sense for me to be her coverage. Fall is the busiest time of the year for us and, while it made for a crazy few months, I am deeply grateful to have had the chance to step into her shoes. While I had always intellectually understood the value the Food Hub provides, I had an opportunity to experience it firsthand and truly see the potential impact we can have on the food system.
The irony of my role as Executive Director is that I rarely get a chance to talk to the farmers who are increasingly at the heart of our work. In Annie’s shoes, I got know many of our partner farmers who are an amazing group of hard-working people, and who come to this work from a variety of backgrounds. I had never fully appreciated the financial anxiety that many farmers face – one lost field of crops, one lost customer, one price increase on a key supply can make the difference between profit and loss.
Our farmers told me that Boston Food Hub has made a difference in their bottom line. Farmers called because they had heard from a colleague that the Food Hub could help them expand their customer base and, in a total surprise, farmers reached out because they needed more varieties of produce and hard heard that we sold wholesale produce at cost (with no markup).
While the Food Hub is making a difference for the small group of farmers with whom we work – I began to believe that if we can scale our work and broaden our reach, we could make an impact on the economics that have traditionally driven the local food system and marginalized the farmer.
The Boston Food Hub model makes local produce affordable by only charging customers for the transportation costs – 100% of the product price a customer pays goes back to the farmer. To have a system-level impact, we need to be working regionally and increase the volume of local produce that is available to a broad range of customers. Scale is the key to reducing inefficiencies in the system and developing a sustainable model.
Right now, for every farmer whose bottom line we help, there are many more who are choosing to leave the profession or sell their land. Without these farmers, the local and regional food system flounders. Farmers need a trusted partner in their work who is a consistent and reliable resource. We have the infrastructure to be that resource, but what we need is more organizational capacity to support our shift from local to regional -- to realize our potential and be a regional force within the food system.
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Boston Area Gleaners
91 Martin Street
Acton, MA 01720