PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — A task force formed by the Pasco County Economic Development Council to explore the creation of a county food hub held its first meeting this week.
- Pasco EDC explores creation of county food hub
- Food hub organization part of local food system
- Helps get locally grown food to restaurants, supermarkets
According to EDC president and CEO Bill Cronin, the council forms two task forces each year aimed at dealing with issues or obstacles for county businesses.
"This year, as we looked at the task forces, we looked specifically at how we could better work with the eastern side of Pasco County around the Dade City area," Cronin said. "We looked at industries they were strong in, and they’re not always the same as our target industries for everything else we do."
According to Dr. Whitney Elmore, director of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension of Pasco County, agriculture generates about $75 million a year countywide. It’s particularly important in east Pasco.
A food hub is an organization that’s part of a local food system. It brings together those involved in production, packaging, distribution, and marketing to help get locally grown food to local restaurants, supermarkets, and institutions such as schools.
“It helps bring all of these players together and really allow for the farmers and the ranchers to focus on the production of the best product possible and not worry about the distribution chain," Elmore said. "They can move their product into the local food system so that the public gets a healthy local food system, local food source that’s environmentally friendly, that is sustainable and secure, and that is also equitable.”
Cronin said one of the goals of the hub would be to help get fresh food to areas of the county in need.
“We have some food deserts, even in rural Pasco County. We’ve got a couple of places that need access to healthy, nutritious food, because right now, they’re getting it from gas stations and convenience stores,” Cronin said.
One local business that welcomes a potential food hub is Wright’s Natural Market. Co-owner Jeff Wright said part of the reason he and his wife chose to relocate their grocery store to Main Street in New Port Richey was to bring locally-grown produce to an area classified as a "food desert."
Wright said they carry crops from seven local farmers.
“We saw that that was a real struggle for them and that they were spending huge amounts of valuable labor that they could be growing more product by getting ready and going to markets and then moving and going to another market,” Wright said.
Elmore said a food hub can also boost agriculture’s already significant economic impact in Pasco.
“A food hub has the ability to help everybody up and down the line — we’re talking about the production, the processing, the packaging, the distribution,” she said. “I think Pasco County is a perfect model county and community, because of the amount of excellent municipalities that we have, Pasco Economic Development Council, University of Florida, with all the resources we can bring to the table. It’s an excellent county, an excellent community to really show the impact of how a food hub can move a local food system forward for the community.”
Cronin said the first step for the task force will be to identify what farms or businesses would be part of the food hub. Then, it will determine goals for those players and see how the EDC could support them. He said he ultimately sees the hub occupying a physical space that will be home to distribution center-type activity.