When Travis Lesser, the founder of Appalachian Food Works — the farmer-focused, nonprofit food hub that took root in 2018 — drives around Centre County, he can’t help but think about the several farms he sees and all the wonderful food they produce. He has made it his mission to ensure all the good food those farms produce is available right here in Centre County.
“It’s great to be able to think that I am eating beef from that farm that I pass by every day,” said Lesser. “Supporting farmers … that is what we are doing it for. It is a great thing to know where your food is coming from.”
Appalachian Food Works connects farmers and their products to people in the area. It brokers, aggregates, packages, stores and distributes locally grown and raised products to local markets (including restaurants, stores, schools and institutions), all with a simple mission: that the food grown and raised in central Pennsylvania gets into the stomachs of those who live in central Pennsylvania, with a focus on creating a more equitable food system, starting with the farmer.
“Centre County farms grow enough food to feed the county’s entire population, but only 1 percent of the food grown here is consumed here. By concentrating on shortening these supply chains, we will be able to provide more Centre County residents with fresher, more healthful food,” said Lesser.
“Furthermore, we must work to provide greater food access to the surrounding rural areas that are rapidly becoming more dependent on national chains to feed their residents.”
Through grants, Appalachian Food Works is expanding its work and is also raising funds by offering local food boxes delivery to the doors of residents. These boxes are filled with local products that, he said, would be a perfect holiday gift.
GRANTS HELP SPREAD THE WORD
On July 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Appalachian Food Works was awarded a Rural Business Development Grant not to exceed $10,771. Funds will go toward reimbursing the food hub for a portion of the organization’s initial administrative costs as it continues to become fully operational.
“This is a big win for us,” said Lesser. “Not only does this give us a much-needed shot in the arm from a financial perspective, it also legitimizes our work to this stage and points us toward a very encouraging future.”
And on Nov. 21, the group also received a $1,249 PA Agriculture Product Promotion, Education and Export Promotion Matching Grant.
The grant money “will go toward helping us support a PASA workshop and back their conference in 2020, as well as help us further our ‘What’s Local?’ campaign,” said Lesser.
The “What’s Local?” campaign is an effort to increase awareness about local products. The social media campaign encourages people to ask about local food products when they are dining at area restaurants and post and share locally sourced food they find on menus on social media.
“Basically, we want people to ask about locally sourced and then share it. Tag the farm and the restaurant and support our local farmers,” said Lesser.
He said this could be done when posting a photo of a dish at a restaurant that includes locally sourced ingredients; when attending an event that has local food on its menu; or when supporting an organization that is actively promoting the local food economy.
“They will share posts that we see with the #whatslocal (hashtag) as a means to further promote our farmers, buyers and the entire community,” Lesser said.
DELIVERY TO YOUR DOOR
Most of the work the food hub handles right now is connecting farms and restaurants, but the second annual Local Food Box fundraiser is a way to interact directly with consumers, by delivering local food directly to people’s doors this holiday season, Lesser said. Each box will contain food raised and prepared by central Pennsylvania farmers with proceeds benefiting Appalachian Food Works.
“New this year will be the ‘Holiday Party Cheese Box,’ which will include a variety of smoked cheeses and locally made artisan crackers, perfect for any holiday gathering, whether at home or at the office,” he said. “Additional offerings include returning favorites such as the ‘feed your family box,’ great for those hungry holiday house guests, as well as the ‘Grill Master Box,’ the perfect gift for the outdoor chef in your life.”
Orders placed by Dec. 17 will be delivered by Dec. 23 to within 50 miles of State College.