Food Hub Caps Off a Good Year

Let’s list the things you probably already know: Raleigh City Farm is an actual working farm. It grows and sells produce on site. It’s also host to multiple farm entrepreneurs—farmers with small new ventures that benefit from their association with RCF, where they are all headquartered.

What you may not know is that one of those farm entrepreneurs has started a venture that isn’t actually a farm itself, but rather a hub for farms.

You’ve heard that word, “hub,” before—a place where various entities come together. The center of a wheel, from which the spokes radiate.

Farmers’ Collective is a food hub. Operating out of Raleigh City Farm, its mission is to bring people together—the eaters, the growers, the cooks, and those with a passion for sustainably grown food. Some of these people understand that we are all stakeholders in a healthy local foodshed. Some of these people just know good food when they taste it.

Farmers’ Collective was founded earlier this year by Chris Rumbley. You might recognize Chris. Sandy-haired and low-key, dressed in well-worn button-down shirts, Chris was the brains behind the design and development of Raleigh City Farm, and served as its first CEO. In that role he managed a broad range of strategic, administrative, and logistic operations for RCF. But his passion was always working directly with farmers, and he believed strongly in the good that would come when these farmers “clustered” their businesses together, selling collectively. Doing so gave them an advantage in an industry where small farms barely stand a chance these days. RCF had managed a food hub among its many activities, but in 2016, Chris spun off the hub as a separate formal venture: Farmers’ Collective was born and Chris became RCF’s newest entrepreneur.

Farmers’ Collective offers an opportunity to both Raleigh residents and local chefs to skip the grocery store and buy directly from a variety of small local farms in the Piedmont region. These farms benefit, too, gaining access to a broader customer base along with support services that help promote sales.

So, let’s say you’re a chef. You could work directly with Chris to place orders for produce aggregated from multiple farms in the Piedmont. You’d know exactly where your ingredients were grown and by whom. (Chris says that some invoices have as many as 15 farms on them.) And here’s a cool thing: chefs can influence what’s being planted locally by giving feedback to Farmers’ Collective.

But I’m not a chef, you say. I’m just a regular Raleigh resident who knows a great head of broccoli when I see one. How can I get great heads of broccoli and other high-quality produce through Farmers’ Collective?

You might want to invest in a Farmshare. Through its CSA (“community-supported agriculture”) program, Farmers’ Collective offers “shares” of local produce. Members pay a lump sum up front at the beginning of the season and then receive their share each week (or every other week), aggregated from local member farms that benefit from a committed buyer. Weekly pickups occur at Raleigh City Farm, where members can often find a cooking demo underway using the week’s produce. What produce do you get each week? You won’t know till you get there! And that’s part of the fun.

Farmers’ Collective’s first year is coming to a close, and while most of us are focused on tree-trimming and the ups and downs of winter weather, Chris’s mind is firmly planted in the spring. Farmshares are already on sale, with pickups beginning in April, and, like anyone whose livelihood is tied to farming, Chris’s work is never done.

Some days are hard.

“As with a lot of people starting entrepreneurial ventures, there are days where I ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’” says Chris. “But the reason I can sustain it is that I believe, at its core, there is good that comes from this business and its mission. I have a hard time arguing with that.”

 

Chris’s work helps boost sales for small, sustainable local farms, and gets their products into your favorite restaurants as well as your own kitchen. RCF’s year-end giving campaign supports Farmers’ Collective, creating a sustainable food system in Raleigh that relies on the success of these new farmers.