Small, local farmers are connecting to new markets thanks to an expansion of the Working Landscapes Food Hub in Warren County.
Golden LEAF awarded $200,000 through the Open Grants Program to Working Landscapes to be used for facility renovations to help expand operations at their Food Hub to add a triple-wash production line and improve process flow, thereby boosting operational efficiency.
“We repurposed the historic site of a cotton gin and flour mill as Working Landscapes’ food hub, home of ByWay Foods, which is Working Landscapes’ brand of prepared foods,” said Working Landscapes Executive Director Carla Norwood. “Our facilities include a state of the art vegetable processing facility where we dice, wash, and bag a variety of produce from local farms for institutional markets.”
The expansion has resulted in three new full time positions since January 2022, a Food Safety and Nutrition Lead, Operations Manager, and Site Manager. As part of the expansion, Working Landscapes has also added 14 new farms to the food hub.
“We added a full time food safety position because the food safety documentation is extremely complicated and an important part of what we do,” said Norwood. “We are looking at adding more positions within the next few months, as we increase our orders.”
With the Working Landscapes’ focus on ready to prepare produce, they reach markets other food hubs cannot.
“We are the only food hub that focuses on value-added processing in North Carolina,” said Norwood. “Most food hubs move raw produce, but we have chosen to focus on value-added production.”
Value-added production has helped Working Landscapes serve institutional markets such as schools, cooperative grocers, restaurants, senior food service agencies, food pantries, nonprofits, and groups within the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe.
“We focus on institutional food purchases, especially schools,” said Norwood. “Schools feed so many people, every day. Right now, only a small part of that budget is going to small North Carolina farms. Even just a small percent increase would be transformative for these farmers and the agricultural economy.”
While Working Landscapes focus is on food, the organization represents so much more.
“Working Landscapes is a rural development organization that my husband and I founded back in 2010,” said Norwood. “We see our mission as broader than food. We see food as an ideal way to make connections between people and places. We are building networks across rural communities. Food is a way to provide health benefits, environmental benefits, and economic benefits for people.”
While the pandemic affected many markets negatively, Working Landscapes added a few new markets.
“We’ve been making meals at the commercial kitchen for community members and seniors since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Norwood. “We also do a fresh produce box program that also originated during the pandemic.”
Golden LEAF’s support was critical to the overall project, said Norwood.
“We really appreciate the support of the Golden LEAF Foundation,” said Norwood. “Golden LEAF was a big part of the project, and more importantly, it was the first part. The funding was absolutely critical because it allowed us to leverage other funds that we ended up needing to complete the project.”
For more information about Working Landscapes, visit workinglandscapesnc.org.Priority Area Funding Program Project Summary