Hub-on-the-Hill brings opportunity to small farms

KIM SMITH DEDAM/STAFF PHOTOSusie Smith (right), manager of the kitchen space at Hub-on-the-Hill, answers questions from Diane Lansing, a resident of Essex, during a recent tour at the Middle Road facility's open house.

ESSEX — The new kitchen at the Hub-on-the-Hill gleamed as the late afternoon sun began to slip behind the Adirondack foothills.

It’s a cooperative place, wrapped in shining stainless steel with industrial-sized cooking pots, racks, cooling trays, juicers, blenders and ovens.

Already, about 10 small farm ventures have joined the hub to access shared purchasing services, preparation space and, soon, a distribution program to get local products into nearby markets.

The group held an open house to welcome the curious, the questions and discussion on local food production and distribution.

FARMERS MARKET 

The front room of the Hub-on-the-Hill’s unassuming metal building at 545 Middle Road in Essex will become a farmers market and light-fare dining nook for Essex County and beyond.

Fields surrounding the building are already staked for the new vineyards of Jay White, a nearby vintner.

The Essex Farm fields are turned and expectant for spring not a half mile down Route 22.

Susie Smith helped prepare hors d’oeuvres for guests, an extension of her Dak Bars and Flying Pancake Catering businesses.

A simple spread included salsas, maple cream, crackers, fresh-baked bread and fruits, along with some very special relish and pickle blends.

Smith is kitchen manager at the Hub’s new venture, founded by a collaboration of local producers under the organizational prowess of coordinator Jori Wekin.

The new cooperation in helping renew small farms here.

ADDED VALUE

Essex resident Diane Lansing toured the new space with Smith. 

"It is so great to see small farming return to Essex County," Lansing said.

And new farmers did bring questions and their innovation to the Hub's open house.

Dan Rivera and his wife, Kim, are among the newcomers, young farmers starting out with a grass-fed dairy and a bread oven on Mountain View Drive in Willsboro.

“I was just talking to (Wekin) about using the ovens for the Food from the Farm event in Plattsburgh on March 5,” Rivera said.

He sees the Hub as an invaluable shared resource for local producers and for small farmers.

“Anytime you can create a product with added value, you can increase your farm’s bottom line,” he said.

“Having a commercial kitchen allows people to get more value from raw materials.”

But the cooperative aspect keeps costs down for small business and farm ventures, he explained.

'LONG OVERDUE' 

Some products to emerge from the warm ovens and the packaging area include tortillas, a product line proffered by Elizabethtown businessman Aaron Woolf; and food, including sauerkraut for the Poco Mas taco truck, owned by Sarah King and Josh Zack. 

Producers involved so far stretch as far as Saranac Lake and Lake Placid and north to Keeseville.

Adirondack Rhubarb Traditions, owned by Bloomingdale residents Sue Abbott-Jones and Barb Rexilius, is using the Hub for its tangy rhubarb products.

Laurie Davis is coordinator of Adirondack Harvest, the community organization that has focused on the return of small farms to Essex County and surrounding counties.

She said the need for the cooperative Hub has been felt regionally for several years.

“I think it’s long overdue, but maybe could not have been accomplished before now,” she mused.

“I think we’ve reached a critical mass of farmers, new farmers and new food ventures.”

NEW OPPORTUNITIES 

Adirondack Harvest is not the parent group for the Hub, which is an expansion of commercial cooking started at the Whallonsburg Grange Hall several years ago.

“This really provides opportunity for the farms to go beyond growing crops into value-added production," Davis said. "It also helps secure the year-round availability of local food.

“And this is great fun to watch them grow out of the Grange.”

Wekin said the recent soft opening was by way of introduction.

“We are just starting, but there are a few new opportunities coming for local producers this summer,” she said.

Among those plans are a retail market space to be established in the front rooms of the Hub building.

There will also be food events on the expanse of property outside, overlooking the gentle slopes of the Adirondack Foothills.

The Hub is hosting bicyclists for a meal during the 2016 Cycle Adirondacks tour in August as part of the Champlain Valley leg of the seven-day cycling trip.

MODEL PROGRAM 

Wekin said the combined force of small-farm farmers improves the purchasing power and marketing effort, bringing costs down by sharing.

Areas of the kitchen and surrounding workspace have equipment for dehydrating, juicing, bottling and packaging.

The initial startup won important U.S. Department of Agriculture grant funding last year to purchase equipment and renovate the space.

The grant program, facilitated in part by the Adirondack North Country Association, continues through June 2017 as a model program for the country.

The Hub is also developing models for a shared distribution system that will help farms get their products into nearby restaurants and other institutions, including schools.

Email Kim Smith Dedam:

kdedam@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @KimDedam

LEARN MORE

Reach Hub-on-the-Hill coordinator Jori Wekin at hubonthehill@gmail.com or 418-5564.

Hub-on-the-Hill also has a new Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thehubonthehill

To learn more about Adirondack North Country Association’s agriculture programs, contact program coordinator Josh Bakelaar: jbakelaar@adirondack.org or 891-6200.

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