VIGA is developing a plan for a Food Hub on Vashon, a place to aggregate and store produce and other products, so farmers could extend the life of their produce and provide larger quantities of food to meet the needs of schools, restaurants, and grocers. A hub enables filling orders at a larger scale and with greater certainty—keys to competitiveness. It also extends to harvest season by providing proper storage. Food Hub facilities could also enable farmers and food entrepreneurs to process locally grown food and create value-added products that can be sold year round.
In 2016, VIGA won a USDA grant to explore what it would take to establish a food hub on Vashon. We’ve looked at possible locations, and identified the potential to use space at Island Springs Organics and a nearby warehouse. To bring this vision to reality, a Vashon Food Hub would develop the physical facilities and infrastructure to receive and aggregate produce, label and market our products and meet transport needs.
Vashon farmers have a history of innovation. The Mukai family invented a way to preserve strawberries and ship them to the Midwest; Wax Orchards created an apple-based fudge sauce that won national acclaim. This entrepreneurial creativity is what will make Vashon agriculture successful. We don’t have rich river bottom soil, nor large tracts of farmland like the Snoqualmie Valley. We do have proximity to Seattle, creativity, many successful chefs, caterers, and food people, and a special place in the hearts of neighbors in our region.
What would be produced and distributed in our new food hub? Think fermented foods like saurkraut and kim chee. Salsa and catsup and baba ghanoush. Dairy products: cheese, yogurt, and kefir. Blackberry and black currant syrup. Guinea hens for gourmet Seattle restaurants. Strawberry-raspberry sorbet. The possibilities are endless.
The Vashon Island Growers Association was awarded $41,300 to develop and pilot a mobile website in summer 2017. Dubbed ‘Vashon Fresh’, it will enable commuters and residents to order fresh, local customized produce and products and pick them at day’s end. It was one of eleven projects across King County funded through King Conservation District’s Regional Food Systems grant program. Vashon Maury Island Land Trust also received funding to ready the Matsuda Farm for production.
‘Vashon Fresh’ will be similar to web-based services like Amazon Fresh and Blue Apron which enable customers to order food from their smart devices. The big differences will be that 1. all the produce and value-added products will be from Vashon growers opening a new market for local farmers and residents and 2. Vashonites will pick up their customized orders at the end of the day on their way home from work.
On-line ordering is a fast-growing segment of the food industry. VIGA wants to demonstrate that it can benefit local farmers and local residents not just giant corporations like Amazon and Safeway. About half of Vashon’s population (5400 residents) commute to work offering a substantial population that would take advantage of the convenience of an order-and-pick-up service. If it works on Vashon Island, the concept could be replicated in other communities in the Seattle metro area. Partners in Vashon Fresh’s development, implementation and possible replication include Seattle Tilth and the University of Washington.