LIBERTY — Small farmers looking to sell their produce face an uphill battle finding a market.
For farmers like Eugene Thalmann, of Sprouting Dreams Farm in Liberty, it means going to farmers markets or restaurants and being a salesman.
But a new nonprofit seeks to change the way local farmers do business so they can focus on just farming.
The Catskills Food Hub, with a 5,250-square-foot building that includes 1,400 square feet of cooler space, cold and dry storage, and a docking area, and refrigerated delivery vans, opened earlier this month in Liberty.
It’s the culmination of more than 10 years of Sullivan County efforts that initially tried to open a red meat processing facility and start an agricultural industrial park on Commerce Drive.
Now farmers can sign up to sell their produce to buyers through the hub.
Since it opened on April 12, Thalmann said he’s been selling to more restaurants, and, as it grows, he hopes his produce will be able to go places he otherwise couldn’t.
“I can’t go out there and actually do the legwork to even procure those clients because for every day that I’m not on the farm is less stuff I can produce,” Thalmann said.
So far, about 30 farms have signed up to work with the food hub, and approximately 15 have crops for sale now, according to Director Cat Wilson.
“We work similar to a consignment, where producers list their own product at their own price,” she said. “We bill markup of 18 percent – which is 12 percent below industry standard – and from there, we find buyers and we get them interested to log on to see the catalog and purchase that way and we deliver.”
There’s no cost for farmers to sell through the hub, which will also market and promote its producers online.
“The main mission is to make sure the farmers can keep their lights on,” said Alan Carroll, operations consultant.
The hub will also serve as an agricultural resource center and aims to increase local access to healthy food, Wilson said.
For example, to sell produce to larger grocery chains or school districts, a farm has to be Good Agricultural Practices certified, but it can be expensive and difficult for small farms to navigate the process, according to Wilson.
So the food hub is hosting certification training with Cornell Cooperative Extension Sullivan County this fall, she said.
It’s only been a few weeks, but Thalmann said he thinks the food hub will be a difference maker for his farm and others in the region.
“We have visions for expanding and the food hub is totally making that a reality at this point,” he said.