In 2019, Mt. Pulaski was one of 15 communities across the country to be awarded a Local Food, Local Places grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency. This program initiates a planning process facilitated by experts from EPA to examine how food can be used as an economic driver in those communities. This planning process resulted in three goals: the establishment of a community garden (launched in 2020), the opening of a cooperative grocery store (also launched in 2020), and the development of a food hub. Ultimately, there were more unknowns and larger ambitions for the food hub, but after an additional year and a half of planning, the FarmFED Co-op is the result.
In March 2020, the Economic Development & Planning Board (EDPB) of Mt. Pulaski hired two local farmers to research the food hub concept and put together a proposal. This period of research and development showed that the community was most willing and able to establish a fresh food processing facility that would be able to buy produce from local growers, process and freeze it, and sell it to larger local buyers such as schools and hospitals. The facility would contain a produce processing line, ample cold storage, and a licensed commercial kitchen.
They also determined that there was the most interest in forming this entity as a cooperative. After 9 months of planning, EDPB approved the business proposal and gave the green light for more funding to continue the planning process (see “Enel and EDPB” for more information on how this process was funded).
In 2021, we have:
Registered with the state as a cooperative
Formed an interim board to serve in an advisory and supervisory role as our interim co-managers continued to drill down on the business plan
Initiated an ownership campaign that ultimately brought in over $144,000 in share purchases
Hired a full-time general manager to take over from the co-managers
Purchased the former Johnson True Value Hardware Store in Mt. Pulaski to house our facility
Beginning in 2022, we entered an advanced planning stage. With our new general manager Cindy Jackson and the Board of Directors leading the way, we are working to plan out, renovate, and expand our building to house our complete facility, while putting the systems in place that will ultimately guide our operations in 2022 and beyond. We are also fine-tuning our business plan and financial projections and making sure that the cooperative continues to have the sustained investment necessary to grow and thrive.