Couple works to create a food hub that reaches consumers in multiple states
PINEVILLE, MO. – Problems are always in need of a solution and the last couple of years has proven this to be a fact, not only for large producers but also for small producers and hobby farmers trying to make ends meet.
Living the rural life is something that requires a special set of skills and vision to till the soil and traverse winter weather to care for livestock.
As 2020 dawned it was clear that large-scale commercial operations would all but grind to a halt. Large numbers of animals were destroyed, the price of others crashed, or crops were delayed from delivery. This presented a problem for many in the agricultural industry, yet in rural America small farmers and growers did not succumb to the downturn but rather diversified their options.
Enter Gary and Anita Burney, of rural McDonald County, Mo., Gary pastored for 45 years in both Arkansas and Northeast Oklahoma. He teaches business classes at a Christian college in Northwest Arkansas. And Anita, just finds solutions, which is evident by the numerous entrepreneurial exploits to her credit.
Three years ago, the Burneys wanted to fulfill the dream of a simpler life and purchased what they fondly call, Back Acres Homestead, a small acreage lying just north of the Arkansas and Missouri line and reasonably close to Oklahoma.
As they settled into their rural life, they began to participate in a farmers market at nearby Sims Corner. Anita sold her artwork and Gary sold hotdogs.
Two things began to solidify a new purpose in the minds of the Burneys: the fact a weekend farmer’s market could only allow small farmers and crafters a small window of opportunity to sell their produce or wares and secondly, the pandemic and subsequent food shortages revealed a need for options to provide quality food products to area families.
“I would watch how local producers would bring their produce to the farmers market and sometimes there were a lot of customers and sometimes barely any,” Anita said. “Then the produce had to be thrown out despite the hard work and investment they had put into growing it.”
The wheels began to turn, and Anita turned to the internet to begin exhaustive research on ways to help the local producers and their potential customers.
The solution would need to be accessible not just on weekends and would also need to coordinate with multiple producers, and crafters, on a regular basis, 365 days a year, 24/7. A central location and point of contact made sense. By the fall of 2021, the answer to the conundrum was clear – a food hub.
According to the USDA website, a food hub is a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.
While the concept is not new, it has been underutilized until about 2008, even now there are roughly 226 actual food hubs across the nation. Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas only have two registered locations each and Missouri only has three.
By November 2021, Farms2Familes Bear Mountain was birthed.
With their current and past business experience and proximity to three of the four states, it made sense to create a centralized location while coordinating with local producers, compiling updated lists of products, then providing marketing and access to buyers through an e-commerce site. The couple offers local pickup at the Bear Mountain location or designated locations within a 20-mile radius of the farm on a schedule.
“We are a link between growers, producers, artisans, gardeners and the local consumers,” Anita notes.
From a business standpoint, the hub will consolidate all the qualities of a cooperative business model arrangement with the Burneys providing the coordination, planning, social media outreach, website management and sales collection for area clients. There will be memberships for potential customers with the benefit of all the coordination and marketing being handled in one location.
“On the heels of the recent issues facing the commercial food delivery system; economic impacts, supply chain delays, food scarcity and uncertainty whether certain products will ever recover. We realized that we have an untapped resource of growers and producers that can supply our neighbors quite well if there was a way to collectively promote them,” Gary states.
The upside to locally-grown livestock or produce is customers know where the food is coming from and know they can receive their order in a timely and professional manner.
This concept fills a need for those finding themselves looking for local homegrown products and the producer who needs to sell their products, in which they have an investment out of pocket.
“This is not a replacement for area food pantries who fill a very important need for families at another level,” Anita said. “But a way for safe quality food grown locally. At the same time also increasing the revenue of area growers with a return on their hard work and investment.”
The couple plan to also coordinate with area natural educators on cooking, composting, wool spinning and outdoor cooking techniques among other things. They will also feature homemade health care products made from natural ingredients, such as soap. There will even be a space for families with no acreage to be part of the Grower Partnership program, where the Burneys provide the space, the water, a tool shed and will split the cost of seed. The member provides the labor and then split the harvest 50/50.
“We help the community find fresh produce and locally raised USDA-approved meat,” Anita offers. “By doing so, we are getting back to neighbors helping neighbors.”