The Mad River Valley is leading Vermont’s movement toward a sustainable food system once again. The Mad River Food Hub will mark more than one first for the state when it opens in mid-to-late-September. (The exact date depends on the arrival of equipment and licensure from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.) Not only will it be the state’s first for-profit agricultural storage and distribution center, but it will also fill a long-discussed void by providing a shared meat-processing facility.
The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund’s Farm to Plate Initiative served as the primary inspiration for the facility’s founder, Robin Morris, the former chief financial official of American Flatbread. Morris says that, when he approached experts for advice on opening a meat-processing facility, “Most of the advice was ‘Don’t do it,’ because it’s very complex.” Then Morris spoke with Joey Nagy, executive chef at the Mad Taco in Waitsfield. An outspoken advocate of local meat, the busy chef stepped in as the Mad River Food Hub’s operations director and helped it acquire all the necessary certifications.
The 4000-square-foot facility includes a meat-cutting room and a meat-production room, where farmers can process carcasses slaughtered off site. To help add value to meats from producers such as Vermont Yak, Vermont Raw and Nagy’s own Vermont Meat Company, there’s even a smoking room.
Storage has already played a starring role at the Food Hub. Vermont Yak and Gaylord Farm are keeping meat and vegetables in the not yet officially opened facility.
The Green Cup moved its food to Morris’ walk-in after flooding from Tropical Storm Irene filled the kitchen and left a piece of the foundationless neighbor’s house perched on top of the Waitsfield restaurant. According to Morris, the nearby Liz Lovely boutique was also ravaged in the storm. Luckily, it was already using the Hub’s storage space.
Cult brewer Lawson’s Finest Liquids is storing its beer at the Food Hub, too. According to Morris, that company will be one of the first to take part in the final component of his brainchild: distribution. “What we realized is, not only do we have to help food producers process their food, we have to help them store it and distribute it,” says Morris. “We’re still doing our analysis on it, but I would say, come October or November, we will have a plan for distribution.”
Morris says he hopes his facility will provide inspiration to other centers for value-added products. “I think part of our role here is to help the other hubs learn from our experience and decide if they want to do it, as well,” says Morris, referring to Mad River’s meat-processing and distribution plans. Perhaps a delicious future is closer than we think.