Food hub changes name, expands mission


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This article was published 26/05/2020 (1110 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The organization that runs the South Osborne Farmers’ Market has undergone a name change, and added a new function to its mission to bring fresh, local foods onto the tables of Manitobans.

The Farm Fresh Food Hub recently changed its name to the Fireweed Food Co-op, and is expanding beyond the farmers’ market to open a food hub warehouse in the city’s West End.

Anna Sigrithur, the food hub co-ordinator, said the South Osborne “M(other)’s Day” farmers’ market on May 10 had 24 vendors who sold their produce and products online in advance of pick-up by their customers at the Lord Roberts Community Centre at 725  Kylemore Ave.

Supplied photo
Vegetables for sale at last year
Supplied photo Vegetables for sale at last year's South Osborne Farmers' Market at the Lord Roberts Community Centre.

“Demand was pretty high for that, both by people looking to buy local, and by vendors who don’t have an online component themselves, and who need the income right now,” she said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic regulations which have shut down many businesses and imposed physical distances between sellers and customers.

For the past year, the Fireweed Food Co-op has also been working to set up Winnipeg’s first co-operative food hub at a warehouse on Clifton Street.

A food hub is an aggregator and wholesale distributor of locally-produced vegetables, meats, honey, grains and other food products, according to Asha Nelson, the project co-ordinator.

“Farmers’ markets are a labour intensive way for small farmers to sell their produce,” she said. “They have to drive their produce into town, unload it, sell it, and then load up what’s left over at the end of the day, and drive back home.”

By aggregating locally-grown foods, the food hub fills a gap in the supply chain that smaller scale, regional producers often struggle to bridge. In doing so, the food hub will provide a more competitive alternative to the global food supply chain which still supplies most grocery stores and the food service industry.

“Farmers are quite good at hooking up with restaurants, but we can get their food into places like hospitals, schools and corporations,” Sigrithur said, adding this keeps more money in the local economy and helps ensure small farmer members have a future; a key aspect of food security.

As a new social enterprise, the co-operative’s plan needed seed money. They received a $50,000 grant from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, as well as funding from the Manitoba Cooperatives Association and Assiniboine Credit Union. They’ve formed partnerships with the Harvest Moon Society, Direct Farm Manitoba and the Prairie Fruit Growers Association.

“We were already a farmers’ market with co-op members. We brainstormed ideas and reached out to other organizations like the Harvest Moon Society for their input,” Sigrithur said, adding they’ve spent the past six months developing sales and marketing strategies and opening up the warehouse.

They’re taking a cautious approach for the next year, planning to sign up between 10 and 20 local producers who grow vegetables, grains and meat.

“Small farmers have such a sustainable method of farming. They engage in practices such as free-range animals and spray-free methods,” Nelson said. “And a shorter supply chain means better resiliency in the local market, a better local economy and better access to food for everyone.”

Their better-known component — the South Osborne Farmers’ Market — will resume on June 17, and run every Wednesday from 4 to 8 p.m. until Sept. 23 at the Lord Roberts Community Centre.

All vendors are local and sell only Manitoba-grown, chemical-free food products. The market is much more, featuring local beer and cider, live music, a kids’ craft tent, and playing host to grassroots events and initiatives related to food matters.

Depending on pandemic restrictions, the market may continue online sales.

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