PROVIDENCE – Governor Lincoln Chafee, Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit, and DEM agriculture chief Ken Ayars joined USDA Rural Development Acting Under Secretary Doug O'Brien and others today at Farm Fresh Rhode Island to highlight a recent public-private partnership to increase local food distribution across New England.
Farm Fresh Rhode Island operates as a food hub by offering aggregation, storage, marketing and distribution services to over 60 producers in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut and connecting them with additional regional buyers. It is one of 220 food hubs around the country.
Earlier this month, Farm Fresh and the Wholesome Wave Foundation, a private funder, and CEI (formerly Coastal Enterprise Inc.), a non-profit community development corporation funded by the US Department of Treasury, announced a collaborative financial arrangement that will allow Farm Fresh to enhance its services for local food producers. This partnership will enable Farm Fresh to expand its work with local farmers, double its product storage capacity, reach more wholesale buyers and significantly enhance its ability to provide fresh, local food to underserved families.
"Farm Fresh Rhode Island is a leader in developing a strong local food system that values the environment, health and quality of life of all Rhode Islanders," said Governor Lincoln Chafee. "Through the new partnership with Farm Fresh, Wholesome Wave Foundation and CEI are recognizing the value of investing in Rhode Island as a way to build New England's food system and contribute to the economic future of our state and region."
The Department of Environmental Management has provided sustained support to Farm Fresh Rhode Island through grant funds and administrative and technical support. "Since 2007, DEM has provided over $225,000 in grant funds through the Specialty Crop Block Grant program administered by the Division of Agriculture for various activities at Farm Fresh including support of Mobil Marketplace, website building, and marketing promotion," said DEM Director Janet Coit. DEM was also involved in helping Farm Fresh Rhode Island become established at Brown University in 2004. "We have long recognized the importance of the local agriculture industry and prioritized building a sustainable, locally-based food system that includes many other like-minded efforts such as support for Rhody Fresh Milk, the farmers' market network of Rhode Island, locally-raised beef, and helping to further integrate locally-caught seafood into agricultural markets," Director Coit added.
Farm Fresh Rhode Island estimates a $3.9 million financial impact to the community in 2012 alone, the food hub's fourth year of operation. Sales in 2013 are so far experiencing an additional 30% growth.