3:55pm

Mon July 30, 2012
Environmental Watchdog

Commonwealth Hosts Local Food Summit

Over a dozen local food distributors from around the nation will convene in Kentucky this week to discuss ways to improve the local food movement. Louisville-based Grasshoppers Distribution will host the summit. The local food distributor recently earned the confidence and investment to grow its operations, but professionals say there's still work to do before small distributors can compete with larger stores.

Grasshoppers Distribution was chosen from over 30 local food hubs to receive a $50,000  loan from Wholesome Wave, which helps local food distributors improve operations. 

"We started looking at Grasshoppers three or four months ago," said Malini Ram Moraghan, managing director of healthy food commerce investments at Wholesome Wave.

"There's a lot of terrific impact here to be made not just economically, but in terms of jobs in the farmers side and ancillary business side, but also in terms of access," she said.

The partnership reached out to state government and local investors, said Moraghan. The Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, the Kentucky Agricultural Finance Corporation, and a private investor invested $350,000 to leverage Wholesome Wave's initial loan.

With coordination by the Wallace Center and funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 15 distribution hubs will meet in Louisville to try to figure how how local distributors can better serve their communities, said Grasshoppers president Ellen McGeeney.

“Then we can share branding, we can share technology, we can share human resources and back office and then we can compete with the big boys and offer something that works for a much broader swath of our community," she said.

It’s difficult for early stage distribution centers like Grasshoppers to compete with large grocery stores, but Wholesome Wave is confident the model can be successful, said Moraghan.

“None of us are quite there yet and we need infusions of capitol to get to scale," said McGeeney.

But Grasshoppers Distribution has grown nearly 80 percent the past two years, she said. And the organization continues looking for ways to expand local food to all areas of the community.

McGeeney said talks with the YMCA are ongoing to potentially become a location for a Louisville Health in a Hurry center, serving the underserved neighborhood of Portland where the distribution center is located.