MUSKEGON, MI – Muskegon is taking the first bite out of its plans for a food hub that uses rail, highways and the Muskegon Lake deep water port.
The Muskegon Food Hub pilot was launched on Tuesday, May 2.
The local business-to-business hub will be hosted at the Muskegon Farmers Market on Tuesdays to allow local schools, hospitals, restaurants and others to easily purchase large quantities of locally grown food.
It will start small with a limit of five farmers and five customers. So far, four farmers are involved, and customers are AgeWell Services for Meals on Wheels, Kids Food Basket, Muskegon Public Schools, Whitehall District Schools and Montague Area Public Schools.
Organizers anticipate that farmers and customers will be lining up to get involved.
Efforts will be kick started with a $40,000 grant from the Consumers Energy Foundation, which was presented at the launch event Tuesday.
Consumers announced a commitment to stay involved in Muskegon in 2011 when it also announced that it would close the B.C. Cobb power plant. The plant closed in April 2016. Forsite Development, of North Carolina, is in the process of taking ownership of the plant, pending approval from the state of Michigan. The developer has plans to demolish the plant, and replace it with a cross-lake shipping hub.
A feasibility study conducted in 2015 suggested establishing a food hub near U.S. 31 and I-96 interchange — possibly in downtown Muskegon, near the port and rail lines. A food hub could gather, store and distribute foodstuffs, as well as engage in food processing, marketing and retail sales.
The pilot is a much smaller endeavor that won’t use the highways, port or rail systems – but it’s a start.
“The launch of the food hub is really just first step in implementation since we completed our feasibility study,” said Frank Peterson, city of Muskegon manager. “We’re really excited to see what the next steps are. We think that the program could have great benefit to our farmers, to our restaurateurs, to all the folks involved in the various types of food businesses that exist in our region, and we’re just really excited to see what the future holds for the food hub.”
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Muskegon County has more than 500 farmers, and there are more than 3,600 in Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana and Ottawa counties, said Marty Gerenser, food hub lead. The hub will be used as a “proof-of-concept” for bigger future plans that include the deep water port, rail and highways.
“A larger aggregation of product could be in our future, and we’re testing that out with this pilot,” she said.