“A Healthier Mississippi” means more than just healing what ails our residents. It also means helping Mississippians adopt a healthier lifestyle. The Up in Farms Food Hub will play a part by providing easier access to quality, Mississippi-grown food through local grocers, restaurants and schools.
Located at the old Farmers Market building on West Street in Jackson, the food hub will serve as a processing and distribution center for food produced by Mississippi farmers.
University of Mississippi Medical Center officials said the Medical Center, which owns the Farmers Market, is proud to be a part of the endeavor by leasing the building to Soul City Hospitality, a collaboration aimed at boosting the local farming economy while providing healthier food choices to the Jackson area.
Nick Wallace, executive chef at the Mississippi Museum of Art’s The Palette Café; Grady Griffin, restaurant operations consultant for U.S. Foods; David Watkins, Jr. of the Food Innovation Center and manager of Up in Farms Food Hub; Dan Blumenthal, co-owner and executive chef at Mangia Bene; and Jeff Good, co-owner of Mangia Bene are the creative force behind Soul City Hospitality.
The group started the discussion about why Mississippi, an agricultural state, does not grow more fruits and vegetables that can then be served at local restaurants, groceries and schools, an idea called “farm to table.”
“We learned that the missing link in farm to restaurant is the business to business infrastructure,” said Good. He said there is no system in place to efficiently coordinate between buyers and growers, ensuring that a reliable and consistent source of produce is available.
“We spent a year researching best practices, talking to stakeholders,” said Good. “We found that the column of infrastructure that is missing is food hub, cold storage and distribution.”
The Up in Farms Food Hub will provide these services and will also be a liaison between farmers and businesses to help coordinate supply and demand, enabling farmers to grow with the assurance that their crops will be purchased by local businesses.
Good said that the group has a long-term vision for the Farmers Market building that was inspired by the work of Dr. Tim Harland with Tulane University’s Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine and the ReFresh Project in New Orleans. The ReFresh Project is an effort to promote wellness and improve the health of community members. It includes a teaching kitchen for medical students and health professionals and a complete curriculum which allows for the medical students to be a part of nutrition education and counseling as well as programs to improve access to fresh foods.
“We have 50,000 square feet in this space, and it would be a great place to put a culinary health center of excellence for UMMC,” said Good. “Many of the amazing people on the UMMC medical teaching team are excited about this, and we hope we can play a part!” He said that a food-related business incubator, a food processing center and a workforce training café for disadvantaged youth are all part of the long-term vision for the facility, but the group is taking the first step with the distribution center.
Refurbishment of the warehouse’s coolers is partially funded by the Delta Regional Authority’s Economic Development Assistance Program. Governor Phil Bryant announced the DRA awards on Thursday, Dec. 10 at the West Street location at an event attended by Chris Masingill, federal co-chair of the DRA, funding recipients and local leaders.