BOONE — The High Country Food Hub has seen a sizable increase in sales and customers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as community members search for ways to benefit the local community and support their neighbors during financially stressful times.
Beginning on May 18, the Food Hub will partner with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association for a project called Farms Serving Hospitality and Restaurant Employees, or FarmsSHARE, to provide a free, locally based produce box to out-of-work restaurant and hospitality workers in five locations across the state for eight weeks.
Mary Beth Miller, education coordinator for the Carolina Farm Stewardship, said on May 6 that there are “100 boxes allocated for Watauga County in the first cohort.”
“Employees working in the restaurant and hospitality industry, including restaurants, bars, breweries, caterers and food services for hotels or event centers, are eligible regardless of job title, salary or hourly rate, or whether they are already receiving unemployment benefits,” said Miller. “Even employees who are still working part or full time qualify, however, we are asking business owners to recommend this to employees who are most in need of food assistance or need access to fresh, healthy food.”
Recipients of FarmsSHARE boxes are served on a first-come-first-serve basis, and individuals interested in receiving a free food box should alert their former place of business or contact Food Hub directly in order to receive one in the future.
“The Food Hub has seen a 583 percent increase in average sales and 400 percent increase in the average number of customers that it serves, comparing February to April,” said Dave Walker, director of development for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, which organizes the operations of Food Hub.
During FarmsSHARE, “the High Country Food Hub’s role is to connect seven restaurant partners with local food for the 89 participants. We will purchase local food from growers, build out the shares and connect the shares with restaurant partners, who will distribute them to their employees,” said Walker.
“The beautiful part of this project is that it is helping multiple stakeholders along the local food supply chain that includes small-scale farmers, food hubs that aggregate and distribute local food, and employees of businesses and restaurants that purchase locally,” Miller said. “There is so much talk about how much our food supply chain is fracturing and breaking down during the pandemic, but this really highlights the resiliency of local supply chains and the importance of local networks and relationships.”
Find additional information by calling the High Country Food Hub at (828) 412-0834 or visiting https://www.highcountryfoodhub.org.