The Mad River Food Hub (MRFH) is a newly opened food processing, storage and distribution facility in Waitsfield in the state of Vermont, in the US. The shared meat and vegetable / herbs processing facility is the first-of-its-kind in the New England region.

The project was conceived in 2010. Construction of the facility was completed in August 2011. It was officially opened for operations in January 2012.

The MRFH is designed as a central facility which can be shared between the food processing and agricultural businesses to reduce the costs. The food hub enables the local small farmers to process and preserve their products and get them to market.

The hub helps meet the demand for meat and value-added foods in and around the Mid River Valley. The cost of establishing the MRFH was about $200,000.

It was mostly funded through federal and state grants, foundation funds and donations while some of the amount came through private investments.

Background to the MRFH project

Demand for the locally grown, grass-fed livestock meat has been increasing in the state. Farmers were unable to market their products due to lack of critical infrastructure.

The facility is the result of the Vermont Farm to Plate programme which aims to strengthen the food system in the state.

The MRFH is the second food hub in the state and complements Vermont Food Venture Center, a shared-use kitchen incubator for local food producers in Hardwick.

Future plans include development of a third such facility in southern Vermont. The agricultural sector plays a pivotal role in the economy of the state.

Vermont site choice

The Vermont food hub plant is located on 151 Mad River Canoe Road in Irasville Business Park, which serves as the commercial and retail centre for the valley.

The existing facility was leased to set up the MRFH. Local companies, including Vermont Raw, Vermont Yak, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Hartshorn Farmstand, Vermont Bean Crafters, Kingsbury Market Garden, The Vermont Meat Company, Screamin Ridge Farm, Three Springs Farm and Star Bird Fish, have already relocated their operations to the site.

Mad River Food Hub design

"The facility is the result of the Vermont Farm to Plate programme which aims to strengthen the food system in the state."

The fully equipped food processing and storing hub has an area of 4,000ft². The facility has received a meat processing licence from the VT Agency of Agriculture and a food processing licence from the VT Department of Health.

The facility has an industrial size cooler and freezer rooms. It includes two meat processing rooms, a vegetable and herbs processing room, a smoke room, a shared dish station and dry storage facilities.

It is licensed by the Agency of Agriculture Vermont Meat Inspection Service for meat processing and is USDA certified for vegetable processing.

The plant is available for rent to food entrepreneurs, farmers and chefs and can accommodate about 70 people. The freezers were purchased from American Flatbread.

The energy-efficient and appetite-effective coolers were installed in the refrigeration spaces by Freeaire Refrigeration. The Freeaire cooler controllers system and polar power package installation utilise external air for cooling purposes.

Capacities, costs and product distribution

The MRFH meat processing rooms are equipped with an electric sausage stuffer, meat grinder and vacuum sealer. It can process and store about 10,000lb of beef and pork a week and costs about $150/day.

"The shared meat and vegetable / herbs processing facility is the first-of-its-kind in the New England region."

The meat and vegetable kitchen allows usage by four people and costs about $200/day. The freezer storage facility charges $45 each month per 4′ high x 4′ deep x 3′ 6" wide pallet.

The refrigerated storage charges $25 per month per pallet and the dry storage costs about $15 a month per pallet.

The facility offers distribution services to the food producers in the Mad River Valley, Middlesex and Waterbury. It distributes them locally in the areas of Middle River Valley, Winooski, Montpelier, Burlington and Waterbury every week.

RSD Leasing provides the food distribution service using a 26ft refrigerated truck equipped with a hydraulic lift gate. The logistics support is available from the UNFI, Vermont Food bank and Black River Production, among others.

Funding the New England food processing, storage and distribution facility

Collaborators in the fruition of the project include the Mad River Valley Planning District, Mad River Valley Localvore Project, the Vermont Land Trust, Valley Futures Network, not-for-profit organisations and local businesses, farmers and residents.

The project received $50,000 in private investments and several grants, including $50,000 from the USDA Rural Development towards purchase of equipment, $26,666 from the Vermont Agriculture Innovation Center, $15,000 from Vermont Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, $10,000 from Vermont Housing and Conservation Board Farm Viability Program, and $7,500 grant from the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund – Farm to Plate initiative.