Processing center also offers jobs to people with disabilities
— A newly opened food hub will bring jobs, fresh food and education to a much needed area in downtown Akron, near the Akron Zoo. Hattie’s Food Hub is a new local farm to table operation, which will process locally sourced ingredients, offer fresh food from a corner market, perform cooking demos and provide workforce training for people with disabilities – a refreshing healthy option in a food desert.
“The food hub is basically about training people to work in local food and agriculture while raising awareness and making local food accessible to the people of the inner city in Akron,” says Zac Rheinberger, director of Food Operations for Hattie’s Food Hub.
The center will employ eight to 12 people, including those with disabilities, following Hattie Larlham’s successful and agriculturally centered model.
Some of the amenities of the center include a corner market that sells freshly grown local produce; an industrial produce washer that washes up to 700 pounds of greens per hour; thermal processing of acidic food like pasta sauce, jams, jellies and baked goods; and a two-stage blast chiller, which will allow the center to freeze items quickly while retaining the food’s nutritional value and taste.
Regarding the corner market, “We’re looking at a grocery store you would have seen in the neighborhood 50 or 60 years ago,” says Rheinberger. “Full service, very locally based in product. It will be a little one stop shop.”
Another valuable resource for the community is a meeting space where food demos and cooking tutorials may help further educate residents. “It’s nice cross-training because we can offer these educational cooking courses and classes to the people in our program as well as the residents around us,” he adds.
The Food Hub also offers co-packing services for startups, like a granola company that sources locally grown organic oats and a startup that makes dried fruit snacks from area fruit with acai berries grown in the Amazon rainforest.
Food processing is critical in Akron, mainly because we have so many un-farmable cold months every year. “(Hattie’s) is helping small-scale businesses by being able to tackle the processing, whether it’s a local farm or local food business, whether it’s freezing or hulling strawberries or doing any number of things,” says Beth Knorr, director of the Summit Food Policy Coalition, who adds that processing food is a critical function that’s been missing in our local food system.
“We can help save the food that’s grown here for people who need it rather than send it out of state for further processing,” Rheinberger adds.
Food deserts are areas of a city without direct access to fresh food for those who don’t have reliable transportation. Quenching this food desert helped inform Hattie Larlham’s decision to build here, along with a nearby organic farm.
Says Rheinberger: “This location was chosen due to the fact that we have a one-acre organic urban farm right up the hill in partnership with the Akron Zoo. And being in this neighborhood and offering a small farmers’ market on that site, we really got to know the neighbors and learn about the needs of this neighborhood and really identify that there was a need for fresh produce in this neighborhood.”
Hattie’s Food Hub is located at 395 Douglas St. For info, visit www.hattiesfoodhub.org.