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Local

Kane County selects food hub operator

Dream Distributors to start operations in mid-2018

The Kane County Board announced Nov. 14 the selection of Dream Hub/PKE Enterprises to operate a countywide food hub.

The food hub will operate under the name of Dream Distributors and will be headquartered adjacent to Dream Kitchen, 1544 Fleetwood Drive, Elgin, which functions as a commercial food processing incubator kitchen. The Dream Kitchen location will undergo an expansion of 3,000 square feet in order to allow for the new enterprise, Kevin Echevarria, CEO of Dream Hub, stated in a news release.

Food hubs exist as a “crucial, but often invisible, part of the local food system,” Echevarria stated in an email. Food hubs offer production, distribution and marketing services to small farms.

Dream Distributors will assist farmers with logistical concerns regarding planting, harvesting, transportation and creating wholesale channels to sell their products to businesses, such as restaurants. Echevarria went on to say that some operations of Dream Distributors will start as early as May or June.

Kane County won’t be the only one to benefit. Food will be distributed to McHenry, DeKalb and DuPage counties as well.

“The goal of Dream Distributors is simple: to open new markets for our network of kitchen users and independent farmers,” Echevarria stated in an email. “We are a one-stop shop, able to deliver to institutions like public schools, private schools, senior living facilities, colleges, universities and more. We guarantee that the food we purchase is safe, traceable, and grown/produced by farmers using practices that we have deemed safe for the land, air and water around their farms.”

Mark Van Kerkhoff, director of Kane County’s Development and Community Services Department, added that the reason Kane County sought a food hub and went through the steps of creating a feasibility study is because of the distance and transportation costs for getting fresh produce. He added there are food hubs in other locations, including one downstate and one in downtown Chicago, but these wouldn’t have the ability to help Kane County farmers.

According to the feasibility study conducted from March 2015 to July 2016, the project will generate $3.4 million in sales and $150,000 in cash flow annually within three to five years of launch, in addition to a number of other benefits, including more than $2 million in revenue generated for agricultural producers in and around the county. The feasibility study estimated the total economic benefit to the community at $5.9 million.

The feasibility study went on to say that 850 acres of agricultural land will be maintained and a new 160 acres of land will be cultivated by farmers for fruit and vegetable production. Beyond the newly farmed land, 20 direct jobs and 35 indirect jobs will be created – 11 of which will be in agriculture.

Van Kerkhoff said, 29 farmers contributed to the feasibility study. Janice Hill, executive planner and farmland protection manager for the Kane County Development and Community Services Department, added that communication with the farm community included interviews, focus groups, meetings, discussions and presentations with the Kane County Farm Bureau.

The process behind developing the food hub started two years ago. Creation of a food hub was a recommended action from the 2013 Growing for Kane Health Impact Assessment, Van Kerkhoff said.

Two companies responded to the request for proposal, Hill said. Van Kerkhoff added that they liked Dream Distributors’ proposal because it already operates other complementary businesses in the Kane County area, such as Dream Kitchen. He went on to add that Dream Distributors has existing roots in the community and has working relationships in the Fox Valley area, which will help to get fresh food to Kane County’s tables.

Kane County itself will be helping Dream Distributors with business planning through $37,000 in funds while Dream Distributors ramps up production, Van Kerkhoff said. Dream Distributors also received a grant for $65,000 to help buy equipment, which will be used for processing fruits and vegetables.

“For hospitals, schools and other institutions to use locally grown fresh vegetables, they need it delivered prewashed, prepackaged, precut,” Van Kerkhoff said. “The equipment will serve that function.”

The rest of the startup costs will be covered by Dream Distributors, the release stated.

In addition to acting as a food hub, Dream Distributors also will offer a food box subscription, which is planned to start in early 2018, that will send fresh fruit and vegetables to those in need.

“The client types can range from food insecure populations who are served by food pantries to K-12 students from low-income communities to patients and community members being served by hospitals and their outreach programs,” Echevarria stated in an email. “One of the programs being looked at is how do we build a campaign/program with our local public aid offices in both Elgin and Aurora for families with state Link benefits.”

Van Kerkhoff said that about 50 food box subscriptions are planned, with some going to individuals and others intended for families. The food box program is being presented through Kane County’s partnership with the Rush Copley Foundation, which has been awarded nearly $50,000 in grant funds from the Telligen Community Initiative, a nonprofit out of Iowa focused on helping people live healthier lives.

Echevarria plans to start another program called Dream Hall, which will hold cooking demonstration classes free of charge to food box recipients, the release stated.

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