South Corvallis to Become a Food Hub

“South Corvallis has long been a food desert,” said Hyatt Lytle, Ward 3 City Councilor and Council President. However, with the $550,000 funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for a food hub integrated with the Urban Renewal project approved by Corvallis voters in 2019, Lytle has high hopes the desert will turn into an oasis.

Which begs the question: what is a food hub?

In the proposal written a while ago and approved in the spring of last year,  Economic Development Manager Kate Porsche explained that a food hub, in this instance, refers to “an incubator for food businesses, a space where we could hold classes for local minorities and disadvantaged populations. It would have a focus on creating connections within our food systems – from our farmers, our agricultural partners to our manufacturers and food retailers.”

According to OSU’s Small Farm Program, “Many communities around Oregon have been exploring food hubs as a way to get more locally grown food into local markets, including wholesale outlets like grocery stores, schools, and hospitals – by providing aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and marketing services. The challenge is moving enough food through the hub to pay for all the infrastructure, systems, and people needed for it to work.”

Porsche also sees potential for a food and beverage accelerator – similar to the Advantage Accelerator, also located in South Corvallis – with OSU or LBCC where people can make and manufacture food products that then get sold. The food hub could also have a retail component that becomes a community draw. Lyttle sees the education piece of the program as very exciting.

ARPA Funds

In May 2021, the Corvallis Benton County Economic Development Office (EDO) responded to the state’s request for project ideas, and in April 2021 Senator Gelser Blouin announced that the city would receive $550,000 for the food hub to be located in South Corvallis. Porsche has put together a team to put this funding to its best use, seeing it as an opportunity to create a physical space and support programmatic aspects of the food hub. She wants to parlay this funding into something even greater through other agencies.

To ensure the project is equitable, Porsche and Kathryn Duvall, Economic Development Specialist, have reached out to as many people in the local food and beverage community including OSU, the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition food action team, Linn Benton Food Share, Casa Latinos Unidos, food hub consultants, and partners in South Corvallis.

Why South Corvallis?

Porsche outlines South Corvallis as a specific location because of the potential with the Urban Renewal district, the potential tie-in with the town center development, the need for a place where smaller farmers can aggregate their produce and collectively sell to wholesalers, and the potential to create a food distribution center for the times when the river floods and cuts South Corvallis residents off. Rebecka Weinsteiger, a South Corvallis resident and community organizer, says that DevNW has been working with Porsche and her team on the food hub project. DevNW states one of its goals is to have “Food Hub/Marketplace Support the start-up and development of small, specialized food businesses (farmers market, fishmonger, bakery, butcher, food carts, etc.) that build on our community’s creativity and farm-to-table potential.”

Porsche expressed appreciation of DevNW’s advice based on their experience with the food hub they developed in Springfield.

In 2017, DevNW purchased the old New Holland Tractor site in South Corvallis. Roughly 3.5 acres of that site is now part of a 12-acre zone for a “Major Neighborhood Center”. DevNW is actively working with the other property owners to create a master plan for the whole site. Weinsteiger’s dream is to locate the food hub there, have a bigger version of the First Alternative Co-Op and potentially even food carts – with the rent enabling the hub to become self-sustaining.

Lytle has her own vision for the food hub and South Corvallis center. She’d like to see it as a destination where the farmer stands have a European market vibe, food carts offering various cuisines, and a Ferris wheel – a concept she has already researched as being financially sound and on-trend.

Next Steps

While Porsche and everyone involved is excited for this opportunity, she doesn’t want to rush any one solution. When asked about next steps, Porsche said, “We are in the very early days of the Food Hub project. Staff has had some initial conversations with folks who work in food and the food world, and we are gearing up to pull together the workgroup for this project and to receive the funds from the state on the project.”

She continued, “My first goal for the group is to consider conducting a feasibility and/or gap analysis. We’ve heard loud and clear from partners that our best chance of ensuring a successful food hub is to first understand the gaps and opportunities for our farmers, producers, within the supply chain, etc. then creating a food hub focused on solving those issues, or taking advantage of the opportunities. With all of that said, we just don’t know what the food hub will look like until we’ve done that analysis and had that community conversation.”

Lytle is thrilled with the momentum, saying, “The ARPA’s $550,000 allocation for a food hub is just the driving force we need here in South Corvallis – just one step along the way to get us to that ‘Home Southtown’ collective vision we all have here.”

By Stacey Newman Weldon

Correction: In the paragraph concerning Kate Porsche’s definition of  a food hub, there was confusion in wording that has been changed.

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