The Yolo County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the contract negotiated with county counsel to allocate the previously authorized $2 million toward land acquisition and preliminary build-out costs for the Yolo Regional Food Hub Project.
In September 2021, supervisors approved an investment of $2 million in American Rescue Plan funds to jumpstart an expanded food hub in the town of Esparto, otherwise known as the Yolo Regional Food Hub Project. The food hub will consist of new and expanded facilities for aggregating, processing, storing and distributing farm produce grown in Yolo County and the surrounding areas.
The hub includes partners Cabay Valley Farm Shop, Spork Food Hub and Yolo Food Bank.
“We are designing a new pathway or new vehicle for which small or medium sized farms within our region can access markets and bring their goods to market,” explained Jim Durst, chair of nonprofit New Season Community Development Corporation. “The consumers on the other side of the food hub are going to be wholesale buyers and restaurants, grocery stores, regional food service, schools, hospitals, incarceration facilities, food banks. There is just a tremendous market out there.”
The Yolo Food Hub will work with small and medium growers in the area to assist them in bringing in their crops to put them in a marketable form, and in many cases a “value-added form,” said Durst.
Staff expect the Yolo Food Hub to take place in three phases, with current plans still in phase one. Esparto community member Maria McVarish explained the scope of work for phase one will include the purchase of the Oakdale barn property, the phase one environmental assessment that is required for federal funding, interior improvements to the barn and road improvements in coordination with Caltrans. Staff will also be leveraging the county’s $2 million commitment to apply for grants through state and federal agencies.
The five-acre Oakdale barn property lies between the towns of Esparto and Madison and includes the 21,000-square-foot barn, 2,700-square-foot ranch style home and large open spaces that can be used for parking or future construction.
“It fits everything that we think would be important in a food hub,” Durst explained. “It has great potential and we are very excited about it.”
Phase two, which is expected to take between 2023 and 2024, will include the expansion of the food hub from 8,000 to 12,000 square feet and will also include equipment costs for three new processing lines.
In phase three, which is to take place in the 2024-25 fiscal year, staff plans to purchase the train station property in Esparto to create a public face for the food hub. This will include retail sales of regionally grown produce, a commercial kitchen for food incubators and food entrepreneurs and for events related to farming and food culture in the region. The total project costs for all three phases will be about $10.4 million.
Supervisors approved the money allocation in a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Gary Sandy voting “no” citing a concern in the increasing land costs and the fiscal viability of the project.
“I’m so delighted that we are able to move forward here in such a thoughtful way,” concluded Supervisor Don Saylor. “This is a collaboration of multiple parties around a shared vision that has been adopted and developed over a number of years. It will benefit food security, it will strengthen our access to markets for small and middle sized growers, it will link our bounty to the people who need it and it will tie our institutional markets directly to sustainable high-quality food for students, hospital patients , for many different markets.”