Grow Ohio Valley Plans New Food Hub for Wheeling
WHEELING — Grow Ohio Valley’s organizers are hopeful the proposed Wheeling Food Hub will provide local farmers or small restaurateurs the necessary shared commercial kitchen space and tools they need to take their harvest or a special recipe dish and get it on grocery store shelves.
More than two dozen people turned out for the first Wheeling Food Hub stakeholder meeting, hosted by Grow Ohio Valley at the Public Market in downtown Wheeling on Monday evening. Plans are being made to house the proposed hub in the currently vacant building at 134 17th Street that once housed Wheeling Cycle and Marine.
Grow Ohio Valley Director Danny Swan said the idea of the Wheeling Food Hub is to provide a shared commercial kitchen facility to support growing farmers, chefs, bakers and restaurateurs in the valley.
He said they are currently in the feasibility and business planning phase of the food hub and currently working on building renovations.
“We have a lot of great chefs, a lot of great farmers, so we know taking the next step in your business is often cost-prohibitive and very difficult,” Swan explained.
Money can be an issue when attempting to invest in a facility that his USDA and FDA approved, he said.
There are also regulatory hurdles and requirements, as well as business planning and labeling. That could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“So what we’re envisioning is a facility that can help with all those things,” Swan said.
Swan said they’re planning for the facility to have the actual physical infrastructure where people can come in and use a shared commercial kitchen space to produce their products that will also include wraparound services, like branding and business planning. He said the Public Market in downtown Wheeling has been essential in driving “their understanding” of the need for a facility like a food hub.
“It’s really hard to keep products on the shelf from these tiny local vendors, who are mostly producing things in their home kitchen,” Swan explained.
He said the food hub could also assist local vendors at the Public Market with moving more product if they so desired.
Vincent DeGeorge, project manager for The Wheeling Food Hub said, “The goal of the Wheeling Food Hub is to provide everything needed to take a farmer’s harvest or a restaurant’s dish and get it on grocery store shelves as a shelf stable product.”
In addition to having the space donated by the owner of the former Wheeling Cycle and Marine building, Swan said the Appalachian Regional Commission is funding the feasibility study for the project.
Swan said Grow Ohio Valley has also received funding for the project from The Mills Group, the Hess Family Foundation, and the United States Department of Agriculture.
They are also receiving assistance from the West Virginia Brownfields Development Center and the West Virginia Small Business Development Center.