The Local Food Hub celebrated its fifth birthday recently by giving away presents in the form of 10 Community Food Awards.
“The Community Food Awards is a special opportunity to highlight farmers, businesses and institutions for their commitment to making access to local food the norm, not the exception, for all segments of the community,” said Kristen Suokko, executive director of the Albemarle County nonprofit, said in a news release.
The Local Food Hub has built a wholesale market for more than 70 farms from 20 Virginia counties. Established in 2009, the organization ensures more locally sourced food reaches schools, restaurants, hospitals and homes from Charlottesville to Richmond and Washington.
Outside the nonprofit’s warehouse in Ivy last week, where the loading dock was transformed into a stage with hay bale seating, about 80 people joined the birthday celebration, which featured not only awards but also a bonfire and s’mores.
Wenger Grape Farms, established in 1938 in Augusta County, was recognized with the Pioneer in the Field award for its multigenerational commitment to producing Concord and Niagara table grapes.
“The Wengers have had grapes in the Shenandoah Valley since before the Civil War,” said Wendy Wenger Hochstedler. “It’s definitely in the family.”
Hochstedler and her husband are the newest generation to manage the farm, and since last year they have found the Local Food Hub to be an invaluable for not only distribution, but expertise.
“My husband and I are new to the farm and we had a lot to learn about the business, pest management and soil fertility,” Hochstedler said. “It has been an amazing resource in terms of our learning with all the workshops they offer and all the training.”
Hochstedler said the award was an “affirmation to the journey” and recognition for the juice and jam experiments they have been trying over the past two years.
The event drew numerous local food producers who came to support the winners and who said they benefit from the Local Food Hub’s growing reach in Virginia.
“I support their effort to support family farms and sustainable agriculture in this area and they are leaders in what they do,” said Renard Turner, from Vanguard Ranch in Gordonsville. “When we have more produce than what we can sell in other markets, this is our go-to place to sell because it works.”
“I am very encouraged by what I see in the trend toward healthier food and buying from and supporting local [farmers],” Turner said.
Jay and Steph Rostow operate Virginia Vinegar Works in Nelson County, producing malt vinegar, red and white wine vinegar and fruit vinegars.
“The Local Food Hub has been very good for us helping us to push our product into new markets,” said Jay Rostow. “They are out there marketing our product in specialty stores and getting into restaurants that we otherwise wouldn’t have time to visit.”
Five years in, the Local Food Hub is collecting and distributing food in a growing area.
“We are shipping on a weekly basis to Washington and Richmond,” said Lisa Reeder, the organization’s Value Chain coordinator. “While our Charlottesville business remains really strong and important to us, we have seen growth in those population centers that are really crying out for local food and demanding it.”
The 2014 Community Food Awards recipients are:
» Partner Fruit Producer of the Year: Dickie Brothers Orchard, Nelson.
» Partner Vegetable Producer of the Year: Walnut Winds Farm, Pittsylvania.
» Pioneer in the Field: Wenger Grape Farms, Augusta.
» Rookie of the Year: Hartland Natural Farm, Madison.
» Retail Leader: Whole Foods Markets Fairlakes, Fairfax.
» Institutional Leader: University of Virginia Observatory Hill Dining Hall.
» Small Business, Big Impact: Glen’s Garden Market, Washington.
» Trailblazer: The PB&J Fund, Charlottesville
» Community Partner: Emergency Food Bank, Charlottesville
» Innovation in Agriculture: Yoders’ Farm, Campbell.