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Local food project sprouts at Smith

[Ian Arthur]
Ian Arthur (standing), executive chef at Chez Piggy restaurant in Kingston, listens as students and community members discuss the possibility of establishing a "food hub" in the local community. Mr. Arthur gave a presentation on food hubs at the meeting hosted by the Centre for Social Impact at Smith School of Business.

Helping local food producers meet the growing demand for their products is the focus of the latest Community Solutions Lab initiative hosted by the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) at Smith School of Business.

Last month, CSI invited approximately 40 people from across Kingston’s food scene to participate in a discussion about the possibility of establishing a “food hub” in the local community.

“We are excited to work together with community stakeholders to support a sustainable, socially responsible and economically viable food system in the region,” says Tina Dacin, Director of the Centre for Social Impact. “We look forward to sharing our research and facilitation expertise in order to develop, test and implement solutions to this complex challenge.”

Food hubs have grown in popularity in the United States with 225 currently active, according to Ian Arthur, executive chef at Chez Piggy restaurant in Kingston and a presenter at the recent meeting. The hubs, which are starting to catch on in Canada, typically involve a business or non-profit organization actively managing the aggregation, distribution and marketing of products primarily sourced from local and regional producers to meet the demand of individual consumers, wholesalers, retailers and institutions.

[Kingston Public Market]
A food hub has the potential to help local and regional food producers by actively managing the aggregation, distribution and marketing of their products. 

Through his discussions with local producers, Mr. Arthur has heard that local producers face significant challenges when it comes to satisfying demand.

“Often times, local farmers have limited storage and distribution is costly. Furthermore, they are busy in the field and don’t have adequate time or resources to devote to marketing,” he says. “That’s where a food hub comes in. It could potentially facilitate planning and collaboration in order to create a more sustainable local food system.”

Mr. Arthur believes a food hub could work in Kingston, given the large consumer market and the wide variety of food items produced within a 100-kilometre radius of the city. However, the food hub must meet the needs of stakeholders in order to succeed, according to Mr. Arthur, and the recent meeting hosted by CSI was the first step toward figuring that out.

Students Jason Hawkins, Graham Stirling-Moffet and Nick Harrison attended the meeting and have a strong interest in contributing to the development of the food hub. After placing second at CSI’s Social Innovation Bootcamp last March, they went on to found Rooted Foods Co., a company that delivers local food products to Queen’s students.

“As students, we recognize the need for convenient access to affordable, healthy food. We are creating awareness about local food among students and are hoping to see a shift in their grocery shopping habits,” Mr. Hawkins says. “The changes that students make today will impact the way that they live tomorrow – that is what’s really important.”

This is the second Community Solutions Lab hosted by CSI. The project last fall focused on helping Pathways to Education, Kingston.

The next step in the food hub is to bring together interdisciplinary teams to move the project forward. If you would like more information or want to get involved, contact Catherine McGill, Program Coordinator (Research and Curriculum), by email.

The Smith School of Business Centre for Social Impact was established in 2004 with a mission to educate students and foster outreach, research and advocacy on issues impacting our local and global communities. Every year, the centre presents and supports a wide range of programming for students, staff, faculty and members of the Queen’s community to learn more about the processes and practices that drive social impact – including the business practice of responsible leadership and, more recently, social innovation, which refers to an innovative product, process or program that profoundly and positively changes a social system and is widely recognized a key driver of solutions to such complex issues. For more information please contact the centre at csi@queensu.ca.