A project led by the Stevens County WSU Extension is looking to “re-localize” the region’s food supply by connecting local farmers with markets like schools, institutions and food pantries via an innovative transportation system. The plan is being called the North HWY 395 Produce Corridor and already has two component pieces in place.
“We are looking to re-localize the food supply on a small scale in order to help create more market opportunities for our farmers, make our area better prepared for an emergency and help offer educational opportunities about food,” said Stevens County Extension Agriculture staffer Nils Johnson.
Johnson pictures a system that uses the new “mosquito fleet,” or small refrigerated trailers recently developed by the extension, to help smaller quantities of local food make it to outlets like schools, universities and other buyers. Two small refrigerated trailers are being completed this spring to provide transportation for the grant-funded Food-to-Farm project that purchases local produce and gets it to area food banks for distribution. The trailers are owned by the Providence N.E.W. Hunger Coalition, a coalition of 13 local food banks, that will facilitate transportation of the produce.
The creation of the trailers and the progress of the Farm-to-Food Pantry Project are two developments in a plan that Johnson said hopes to address some of the bigger challenges of direct marketing for farmers in Stevens County: transportation and quantity.
“Sometimes institutions like schools are forced to buy a whole case of produce that ends up going bad before it can actually be used,” said Johnson. “We just helped get local lettuce to the Inchelium School District, for instance, and we were able to get them a quantity they could actually use.”
By opening the doors to local food on a small scale (usually 1-2 banana boxes full of produce), Johnson said the HWY 395 Produce Corridor will provide more market access for farmers, but to scale.
“Our farmers only have the capacity to provide a couple of crates of produce at a time for direct sale, so when we approach schools or other opportunities, we aren’t asking them to abandon their current supplier entirely, but rather to augment with local produce,” said Johnson. “For both the farmer and the buyer, we have learned no one wants to step in in a big way all at once.”
Johnson said by opening small, scaled market opportunities for local farmers, it provides them a venue for produce that may not fit for their other markets, like farmers’ markets.
“We currently have a Farm-to-Food Pantry project that purchases $6,000 of produce from local farms and gets it into local food banks,” said Johnson. “When the HWY 395 Corridor is up and running we are hoping to provide the opportunity for other institutional sales with some transport help using the small, refrigerated trailers and other tools. It will give farmers just one more leg on the revenue stool.”
With the small “mosquito fleet” refrigerated trailers completed and ready for use this year, the other pieces needed for the HWY 395 Corridor project would include refrigerated “pods or nodes” where farmers could drop off fresh produce and it could be picked up by a refrigerated trailer and transported to the buyer.
“Along with developing a drop off and pickup system, we also need to have an ordering system that would work for this project,” said Johnson.
Johnson said when the project is complete, he hopes it will further bolster and develop farming opportunities in Stevens County.
“When this is complete, our farmers will be able to sell more of what they grow and by having more markets, their outlets will be more diverse, which reduces their overall risk,” said Johnson.
For more information, email Johnson at: email@example.com.
By Jamie Henneman/The Independent Staff