TORRINGTON, Conn. (AP) — Three times a week, Renee Giroux rises early in the morning and leaves the fields of her farm in Warren behind for a ride through the rolling hills of Litchfield County.

She and her colleague Lindy Terell spend the morning and early afternoon driving from farm to farm, where they collect baskets of fresh produce and haul it back to a warehouse at 30 Broad St.

Giroux, who owns Earth's Palate Farm with her husband Kevin Giroux, has spent the past year trying to establish the Northwest Connecticut Food Hub as a distributor of locally farmed food, which she and the Northwest Hills Council of Governments hope will boost the county's agricultural industry.

"The whole point of the Food Hub is to grow these small, independent farms in the area and broaden the distribution process," Giroux said.

The fledgling Food Hub, which completed its pilot year on June 18, recently received a boost from the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy authored by the Northwestern Connecticut Economic Development Commission. The plan, which has been endorsed by the Council, calls for $295,000 in investments over five years to help the Food Hub establish itself.

"The (strategy) lays out priority projects for us to focus on but there is no guarantee of funding just because they are in there," said Jocelyn Ayer, community and economic development director at the Northwest Hills COG. "It just helps us prioritize what we are out there seeking funding for and helps potential funders understand that these projects are regional priorities."

So far, the Hub has cobbled funds from a variety of public and private sources, including the COG, the state Department of Agriculture, the Ellen Harcourt Knowles Foundation and the Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation Draper Fund. Ayer said the Hub has raised $107,789 for this year and is currently seeking to raise $100,000 for next year.

The Food Hub is operated by Partners for Sustainable Healthy Communities, a 501(c)3 public charity founded in 2007 as Litchfield Hills Food Systems, whose mission is to promote sustainable agriculture and healthy lifestyles in Northwest Connecticut. PSHC runs several programs in addition to the Food Hub, including the Farm-Fresh farmers market and Nourishing School Gardens, a program that establishes produce gardens at local schools.

Right now the Hub's only employees are Terell and Giroux, the Hub manager, which leads to long hours of coordinating with farmers and vendors and limits the organization's capabilities.

"It's a seven day a week job," Giroux said.

The Hub collects produce from 15 farms, up from eight last year, and distributes their goods to 10 retail outlets. On a recent Wednesday morning, Terell and Giroux made their way to Ridgway Farm in Cornwall, where they loaded the van with baskets of fresh carrots, onions and tomatoes.




Information from: Republican-American,