Food Systems: Developing a Regional Food Hub in Northern New York

Worksite Location
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County
Faculty Sponsor
Lindsey Pashow, Harvest NY Marketing
Field Mentors/Supervisors
Kevin Jordan (Executive Director); Cathy Moore (Agriculture Program Leader); Amanda Root (Nutrition Program Leader); Sue Gwise (Horticulture Educator); April Neujean (Farm to School Coordinator)
Stipend Amount
Project Summary and Intended Outcomes

Abstract/summary:  Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County is working closely with Senator Patty Ritchie on a regional initiative to develop a food hub for Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Oswego counties.  The initiative was put forth by the Senator with an award of $1 million to fully develop from concept to reality. This vast area has strong potential for success, but also many challenges.  We recognize that a multidisciplinary approach that includes not only a diverse team within our own organization, but also a wide array of invested partners – from both the public and private sector – is vital to plan, launch and sustain this initiative. 

Challenge/Need/Rationale:  Senator Ritchie kicked off the process of exploring a food hub in the fall of 2015 with a series of public meetings with various stakeholders throughout the region. The meetings have generated a list of interested groups to work with as the project progresses and also a forum to begin to gather stakeholder comments, suggestions and information.

This concept, currently in development, is looking at helping growers sell directly to existing distributors who would in turn sell the local products to businesses and organizations such as schools, restaurants, hospitals and grocery stores throughout the North Country region. 

It has been determined that new and existing growers in the area need assistance with GAP certification, costing of inputs, farm business financial benchmarks, horticulture technical assistance, business planning, and planning for geographic clustering/coordination.  Likewise, information is needed from the distributors:  type of products to grow, quantity of each product, schedule, and quality specifications.  The distributors have indicated their ability to provide this and their desire to buy locally, but not to coordinate the entire effort.  Time and time again, the need for coordination has been identified.

Currently, the unknowns include 1) how products will be delivered to the distributor and 2) the required specifications for delivery. For instance, do the products need to be washed and packaged in a certain way?  If the answer is yes, it leads to further questions about the potential need for minimal processing and packing facilities to accommodate requests from area institutions.  Other unknowns include specific local economic impact information about the multiplier effect on the local economy.

Roles and Responsibilities

A Cornell Intern would be an asset to this project.  The student would work closely with the Jefferson CCE Local Foods Team to complete the first pilot phase of the project which includes the following:

  • Work with the local distributor to determine type, quantity and quality of product desired.
    • Interview distributor to get a list of products.
    • Interview distributor to determine how much of each product they would purchase.
    • Interview distributor to determine packaging and quality expectations.
    • Interview the distributor to determine expectations for aggregation of product.
    • Develop a set of product standards to guide growers’ production and harvesting.
      • Using the information gathered from the distributor, create a specifications document for producers.
      • Select and work with a pilot group of growers to begin planning for next season’s crop.
        • Determine interest from growers throughout the four-county region.
        • Present the business model and product specifications.
        • Answer questions and provide them with technical support and resources as requested.
        • Work with growers to understand and begin the process to obtain the necessary GAP/food safety certifications.
          • Hold and information meeting.
          • Hold a two day GAP readiness training.
          • Provide technical support and resources as requested.
Qualifications and Previous Coursework

Must be a full-time CALS freshman, sophomore or junior. Graduating seniors are not eligible. Must meet NYS Department of Motor Vehicle requirement, if applicable.

Benefits and Skills

CCE Jefferson staff will engage students in all aspects of the project and provide opportunities for inter-disciplinary collaboration and work that will truly benefit the community.  Students will find a welcoming, comfortable environment that supports their desire to learn and make a difference.  They will engage with staff, community partners, government officials, and business owners.