It all started with one truck—one truck and the idea that bringing fresh, healthy foods into Philly communities was just a question of coordination. For Haile Johnston and his wife, Tatiana Garcia-Granados, founding Common Market was the logical solution to solve the food access issues they saw in the communities around them.
“The core of Common Market is selling to schools and hospitals,” said Johnston. “Historically, they have been the hardest institutions to reach. They serve the most vulnerable population. That’s why we focus on partnering with schools and hospitals.”
Their food hub business model connects local farmers in the rural Mid-Atlantic region with wholesale customers in urban areas. In their first year, Common Market worked with only a dozen farmers and had 22 customers, but they kept growing—adding trucks and building relationships with local family farms and institutional buyers in urban communities.
Last year, Common Market won funding through USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program, a grant program created by the 2014 Farm Bill and administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). With this grant, Common Market was able to add a fourth truck and purchase coolers that will streamline their delivery system. In addition to improving the shelf-life of the products, the coolers will serve as centralized collection points for farmers’ products and reduce the distance Common Market’s trucks have to travel to pick up and deliver products.
These improvements in operating efficiency will also help keep more food dollars in farmers’ pockets, further increasing the positive impact for both the rural and urban communities that work with Common Market.
“The big opportunity with this grant is helping local family farms and communities thrive together,” said Johnston. “Everything Common Market does is about improving the health and wealth of the community. This project really helps us preserve all of the values that make local foods special.”
In 2015, Common Market is poised to sell more than $3 million in local foods and will be working with 80 family farms and 250 customers. Common Market’s positive impact on its surrounding community is just one example of how USDA is using the Farm Bill to increase opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and businesses across the country.
As interest in local food continues to grow, farmers, communities and businesses are finding new and innovative ways to meet the increasing demand. Locally and regionally produced food is extending beyond farmers markets into food hubs and other business models as more and more retailers, institutions and restaurants want to buy local. Last year, Farm Bill funding made it possible for the AMS Local Food Promotion Program to award grants to 191 projects investing in local food enterprises and for the Farmers Market Promotion Program to award 183 grants to projects that support direct-to-consumer outlets for local foods. These programs support the USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative (KYF2), which coordinates USDA-wide activities related to local and regional food systems.
“With USDA investments, Common Market has been able to grow,” said Johnston. “Our impact within the farm community and the community as a whole has improved with our increased ability to provide food to the market.”