A new state-of-the-art food hub opens Friday in Falcon Heights.
The Good Acre will address the two biggest barriers to increasing local food, identified in a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report: meeting food safety requirements at the national and state level, as well as distributing produce to mainstream markets.
"Let's face it, great farmers are not necessarily great marketers or distributors," said Rhys Williams, general manager of the Good Acre. He understands what it takes to grow and distribute local organic food because he has worked in every aspect of the food system — as a farmer, wholesale buyer, consultant and advocate. He is thrilled with the facility and its potential impact.
The Good Acre is the brainchild of three women in the Pohlad family — Lindsay, Allie and Sara — who engaged chefs, farmers, producers, university researchers and food system experts.
"It was my interest in food and cooking, Sara's love for community outreach and Allie's knowledge of nutrition that inspired the project," said Lindsay Pohlad. Funded by the Pohlad Family Foundation, the Good Acre's mission is "to enhance how food is grown and shared in the Twin Cities region, to improve marketplace opportunities for diverse independent farmers and to increase access for all consumers to healthy, locally grown fresh produce."
Adjacent to the facility is an acre of certified organic University of Minnesota land that will provide growing opportunities for university students, beginning farmers and immigrant growers to plan, plant and harvest diverse crops. At this location, the Good Acre's hoop houses will be available to extend the farming season.
More than 16 farms and farming groups will supply produce for the Good Acres CSA (community-supported agriculture). These farmers include the Hmong American Farmers Association, La Familia Cooperative and Stone's Throw Urban Farms, which will deliver produce to the Good Acre site, where they can separate, wash, aggregate and pack it for delivery.
"The Good Acre has the capacity to open new markets for all of us," said Robyn Major of Shared Ground Farmers Cooperative, based in St. Paul.
Pakou Hang, executive director of the Hmong American Farmers Association, expects that the new facility will be a game changer for immigrant farmers. "It will allow them entry to markets by providing access to equipment, coolers and processing stations that are required by certain institutional buyers," she said. "By themselves, the farmers would not have been able to access this necessary but costly infrastructure. But through the Good Acre, so many things will be possible now."
Williams anticipates that immigrant elders will share their knowledge with younger farmers who are eager to put classroom studies to work. "Collaborating with the university will be good for the students and good for our growers," Williams said. "We are all excited about the prospect of working together."
The space is also intended to be a learning center for the larger community, as well as for university students and staff, with kitchens for cooking classes, demonstrations, lectures and events. It is, in a broad sense, a local food hub.
The Good Acre's grand opening is from 1 to 6 p.m. Friday at the new facility, 1790 W. Larpenteur Av. in Falcon Heights, with guided tours, cooking demonstrations and family activities. For more information go to the Good Acre's website: thegoodacre.org.
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis author and cooking instructor.