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Small farms finding niche markets

As Corporate farming continues to become the main source of the majority of the populations food smaller farms still seek sustainability through finding niche markets and continue to supply their local communities with food and other goods.

COVID 19 showed us very quickly just how insecure food sources from these corporate suppliers could become when tragedy strikes our nation and why it may be wise to know where our local food suppliers are and how to get their products.

There are many reasons to consider supporting our local farmers. Just to name a few, we know where our food comes from, we can meet and talk to the farmers, we support our local economy, and we promote greater food security for our communities.

One local organization has made it their mission to make this connection between farmer and consumer more accessible in new and convenient ways throughout central Pennsylvania.

Appalachian Food Works was established in 2018 by Penn State professor Travis Lesser, who is the Founder and Executive Director of Appalachian Food Works. It is a non-profit food hub working to create a more equitable food system by distributing fresh, locally grown food to the people who live closest to it.

Their first customer was a business nestled right here in Mifflin County, Shy Bear Brewing, and the local food hub has grown to the point of bringing local goods from central pa farmers to businesses such as restaurants, caterers, home chefs, and even State College chapter of Meals on Wheels.

According to their website, a food hub enables small to mid-sized farms to increase their revenue, increases access to fresh, healthy food, creates and sustains local businesses and fights food insecurity. It also facilitates regional stakeholder networks and bolsters local agricultural economy and creates jobs.

Appalachian food works brokers, aggregates, packages, stores, and distributes locally grown products to local markets. These markets include restaurants, stores, schools, and other institutions) in Centre County and surrounding counties.

App Food Works is working towards the development and expansion of these services in new and exciting ways as they are now offering a direct-to-consumer option on their website. Making the accessibility even easier for both farmers and consumers. Farmers will be able to post their products on the App Food Works website for direct-to-consumer sales and potentially deliver their products themselves or utilize one of the pickup sights that will be available in Centre county. This is an open online marketplace for farmers and wholesale customers looking for an online platform to sell their products or purchase goods.

App Food Works will continue to work to collaborate with other similar organizations across the state in hopes of inspiring this model to be something that could be used in every state to bring farmers, chefs, and other consumers together.

Lesser said, “If we are able to collaborate with the other entities that are doing similar things, we are able to help bring costs down for all of us, and we are able to pass those savings along. Perhaps once this is achieved, we will actually be able to be more competitive with some of the larger broader line distributors that are not local.”

Local farmers interested in joining the network of farms as a supplier through Appalachian Food Works can visit their website at appalachianfoodworks.org and fill out the farm questionnaire located under the link “our farms”. You can also call 814-303-2544 or email them at info@appfoodworks.org

As long as people are buying local food, they are supporting local farmers no matter what organization or avenue in which we buy local we are making a difference and bringing sustainability to our local communities.

Lesser said, “We are looking to create a more equitable food system not just in Centre county but throughout the country, but we need to start somewhere. We need to collaborate in order to get there we need to let go of this notion that we are competing. If people are buying local food, it is all good. As long as we are all working towards that end of supporting local there should be no competition. We want to bring that connection between the chef and the farmer, and we want the consumer to have familiarity with the farms that their food is coming from. It is very empowering to drive past a local farm and say that is where I get my vegetables, milk, or meat. This is the ultimate traceability guide for your food.”

The beauty of buying local is often found in the connections made through this process of supporting each other. We not only have food security but get fresh nutritious food that didn’t travel around the world to get to us and even better we make new friends in the process. We discover the true meaning of community.

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