BOONE — Local food is now more convenient than ever.

Beginning on Thursday, Sept. 30, consumers can order local food through the High Country Food Hub’s online marketplace and pick it up at three different locations — downtown Boone, downtown Blowing Rock and in Banner Elk.

The downtown Boone location, the main location, is located at the agriculture center and the downtown Blowing Rock location is now at the Blowing Rock Market. The Banner Elk location is at the Western Youth Network on Tynecastle Hwy.

“The expansion of the Food Hub places local food closer home,” said Dave Walker, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture’s development director. “Over the last several years, we’ve recognized that many people would love to access fresh, healthy local food, but that it’s just not convenient. The Food Hub’s online ordering and satellite pickup locations make it very simple.”

To participate, customers can shop from more than 3,000 local food products Thursday through Monday until 11:59 p.m. and select their pickup location. Farmers then bring their products to the Food Hub where staff and volunteers organize orders. Customers pick-up their order on Wednesday or Thursday afternoon, depending on the site that they selected.

“Not only does the Food Hub make shopping for local food more convenient, but we’re also able to collaborate with amazing businesses and nonprofits as partner sites,” said Katie Cavert Ferrell, satellite project coordinator for BRWIA. “In September, we worked with the Blowing Rock Farmers’ Market and Chamber of Commerce to launch our first pickup location and now we’re working with the Blowing Rock Market and Western Youth Network in Avery County.”

The High Country Food Hub has seen extraordinary growth over the last few years as consumers turn to local food as a reliable and delicious source that supports our local economy.

In 2020 over 1,300 new customers joined the Food Hub, leading the total local economic impact of the program to $1.7 million since 2017, according to the Food Hub.

“The Food Hub and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture’s work to build an equitable, sustainable food system offers new and exciting opportunities for farmers and consumers,” Walker said. “Farmers are able to connect with consumers that couldn’t make a farmers’ market in the past and consumers are able to shop hundreds of different kinds of locally-grown vegetables and meat products, eggs, cheese, bread, jams and more.”

When the pandemic started, the Food Hub saw a significant uptick in customers. Sales climbed to nearly seven times the volume from February to May 2020. However when stay-at-home orders ended, many customers found it hard to make it to the Food Hub’s downtown Boone location, the organization stated. That’s when the Food Hub found support from the Golden LEAF Foundation and the Conservation Fund to purchase a delivery vehicle, hire additional staff and build out a walk-in cooler.

“We’ve been so fortunate to have strong partnerships with Watauga County, the town of Boone, Watauga County Cooperative Extension, Carolina Farm Credit, the Boone Area and Blowing Rock Chambers of Commerce and many, many other groups in our community to be able to create what’s seen across North Carolina as a model online marketplace for local food,” Walker said.

The High Country Food Hub is also unique in that it offers a 50 percent discount for SNAP/EBT customers on qualifying products. Thanks to individual donors, churches, community foundations and the town of Boone, the Double Up Food Bucks Program has made local food more affordable for 246 families in 2021, generating $67,750 for area farmers.

Looking ahead, the Food Hub and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture plan to launch additional sites in the coming months in western Watauga County, east Boone and Ashe County.

“This project could not occur without the support of our community of farmers and dedicated local food consumers,” said Ferrell. “Each week they work together to support a resilient and healthy community.”

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