Sophiasburgh Central’s County Food Hub seeks municipal support for 2021

(Left) County Food Hub General Manager spoke to Council Monday evening about the progress of the grass roots initiative that saw unused space at Sophiasburgh Central School transformed into commercial kitchen space. (Jason Parks/Gazette file photo)

 

OLIVIA TIMM

FOR THE GAZETTE

The County Food Hub at Sophiasburgh Central School made their case Monday evening to Council that municipal support of the not-for-profit youth and community agri-food initiative should continue.

Mike Farrell, General Manager of the County Food Hub, told Council at its first budget session Monday evening that since its induction in October 2019, 2,000 individuals have benefited directly and indirectly from the hub’s operations, namely in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Food to Share, Farrell said, was the first user of the County Food Hub and is now an ongoing long-term user.

By using the facility and its resources, Food to Share was able to prepare 200 pre-cooked meals that were ready to heat. These meals were distributed weekly between April and September 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he explained.

Slated for consolidation and closure by the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board in 2018, a grass roots effort by parents in the ward led to a pilot initiative that transformed unused space at the Centennial-era school into commercial food kitchen, preparation and storage space for a host of users. The effort gained support from multiple levels of government and kept the school from closing. Farrell said the specific request to Council from this year’s upcoming budget is in the direction of food security funding.

Anne Marie Varner, President and Chair of the County Food Hub board, echoed Farrell’s statements, emphasizing the growing importance of the hub during the pandemic.

“We are in an unprecedented position to help the community on issues of food security. One of our signature long-term users is Food to Share,” she shared. “They have benefited from having a stable and secure kitchen facility throughout the COVID pandemic – a place to rely on. We didn’t close our kitchen even in the most challenging days of the pandemic, instead, we offered it to Food to Share at no cost.”

Other halls and facilities were not able to stay open, she continued, “which proved that we are indeed a hub where food providers like Food to Share and small niche businesses can continue their development without losing momentum. But it has cost us – we have lost revenue and we are now in the position of trying to rebuild our business and our facility. Being embedded at the Sophiasburgh Central School has proved very beneficial. The school board has been an incredible partner in our operation and will continue to be as we move ahead on some really creative, multimedia programming with them with the larger goal of building our community.”

Varner said the County Food Hub has played a leadership role on issues of food security and education and will do so again over the long term, but right now, need to secure steady tenants like Food to Share to do so. County staff had earmarked $20,000 to food insecurity issues in the 2020 budget, which would be a separate amount of funding than that of the deputation.

“Food to Share and the County Food Hub are active members of the food collective and have been part of this growing food security group from its inception. This request of funding is in addition to funds currently earmarked for food insecurity and managed by the CEDC’s Food Security Working Group,” Varner explained. Coun. Roberts commended the group on their hard work and noted how essential the Food Hub, the food collective and the Food to Share program is to the community.

“The best budgets always tell a story. If there was ever a year for a municipal budget to tell a story of supporting those who are more vulnerable and more exposed during this COVID-19 pandemic, this is the place to do it. More than ten per cent of our County population are struggling with food insecurity and according to the County Foundation, 18 per cent of households in the County fall below the poverty line. Imagine what those stats are amplified with regard to food insecurity during a time of COVID-19.

So, if our budget could find its way clear to support this ask, I think we would be telling a very good story. The request for food security funding would include $10,850 to cover a full year of kitchen and storage rental at the County Food Hub facility by long-term users and valued partners, Food To Share, in 2021. It would include $4,000 also to Food to Share for the procurement of additional cooking space in Picton and/or Wellington as the arena kitchens remain closed.

In Farrell’s deputation, he said this money would provide “much needed stable revenue for our social enterprise during these unstable times, provide more financial bandwidth for Food to Share to fulfill its mission and help to build up our capacity as a key part of a developing food security network here in the County. The funding request also included $4,000 to cover lost revenue incurred in the midst of the pandemic resulting from providing the kitchen and operational support free of charge to Food to Share.

The motion to receive the deputation was carried. The request was to be deliberated on later in the week.