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In Edible-Alpha® podcast #41, Tera interviews Ron Williams, Jr., a farmer and food hub owner/manager with Dorchester’s Farm Food Hub, a for-profit cooperative located in Prince County, Maryland serving the Chesapeake Bay food shed. The Hub aggregates and tries to ensure consistent supply of seafood and farm products (fruit, produce, livestock) and then redistributes to areas that are historically under-served via direct delivery of fresh and healthy food options. This year, excessive rain is causing their yields of all products to be down, forcing them to plan for a future with extreme weather. Families on the upper shore of the Chesapeake are having their homes and businesses flooded more easily because of rising water levels.
Ron talks about how the Hub’s leadership wanted the products to be as accessible and affordable as possible to all of their customers. The Hub gives its customers lots of choice and flexibility, allowing people to chose what they purchase based on availability and their preferences. They started with 20 members in 2014 and are now up to nearly 500 consistent members in 2018. The average order size for their products is about $57 and 2 products.
The Hub keeps consistent data on their customers’ preferences and has developed new products, like chicken plates and coleslaw, to both eliminate unnecessary waste in their operations and improve their bottom line through producing of value-added products and adding customers to existing delivery routes. Their product mix and delivery options are extremely complex to manage but are essential to their unique place in the market.
After receiving training from FFI (sponsored by the USDA), Ron and his team decided to take a deep dive approach using the tools they explored in the training to evaluate potential for cost savings and optimizing cash flow. Since the training the Hub has sought to further leverage their strategic advantages of seafood and aggregation services as their biggest points of differentiation in the marketplace.
Ron advocates continuous learning as essential to successful entrepreneurship, pointing to past classes about crab pasteurization, his training with FFI and current coursework with the University of Maryland Institute Of Applied Agriculture as helping improve the operational bottom line and connecting Ron with the resources he needs to make his hub successful. In his experience, combining continuous learning with diversification of revenue and product sources has led his hub to increased success.
This next year, Ron is looking to scale up his management team and build collaborative partnerships to help local farmers and emerging food entrepreneurs effectively scale up their service to the Chesapeake Food Shed. This includes connecting those entrepreneurs with markets via the food hub’s platform and retail storefront, as well as providing other types of support. Much of this work is present in Ron’s work on the steering committee of the Chesapeake Food Shed Network.