Kane County Votes To Create Regional Food Hub

Kane County Votes To Create Regional Food Hub

The Kane County Board announced today (Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017) its selection of Dream Hub/PKE Enterprises to operate a regional food hub in Kane County under the name of “Dream Distributors.”

Kane County Board President Chris Lauzen signed the Memorandum of Understanding after Tuesday’s County Board meeting.

“Kane County’s farmland is a key economic driver and valued reminder of our county’s heritage,” he said. “A new local food hub operation will allow Kane County farmers to capture a greater share of the growing local food economy while making healthier food options accessible to vulnerable residents.”

Dream Distributors is expected to produce more than $2 million in revenue for agricultural producers in and around the county and have a total economic benefit of $5.9 million, according to the county’s feasibility study.

“A local food hub will encourage Kane County farmers to produce more fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat products – which also supports the long-term viability of farmland – our county’s greatest resource,” said T.R. Smith, chairman of the Kane County Agricultural Committee.

Kevin Echevarria, CEO of Dream Hub, said the enterprise is nothing short of groundbreaking.

“This will be a well-rounded food hub that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Echevarria said. “People will look in and ask, ‘How do we replicate this and bring this to our own community?’ ”

Dream Distributors will be located adjacent to Shared Dream Kitchen, 1544 Fleetwood Drive, Elgin. An additional 3,000 square feet of food processing space will be added to Shared Dream Kitchen, a community incubator kitchen, bringing the total to 9,000 square feet, Echevarria said.

How Does It Work?

At Dream Distributors, produce and other farm products will be washed, packaged and distributed to restaurants and other institutional users in the region.

Dream Distributors will also coordinate the logistics — working with farmers and producers to plan crop planting and harvesting, truck the foods to the plant for preparation, and create the wholesale channels to sell the produce.

Plans for Dream Distributors does not stop at getting locally-grown foods to large-scale users, however. Once in operation, a “food box” subscription service will get fresh fruits and vegetables into the kitchens of the county’s neediest residents while also teaching them how to cook with fresh ingredients.

Using Dream Hall — a food service concept currently planned for downtown Elgin in early 2018 — Echevarria plans to hold cooking demonstration classes free of charge.

“There is a huge food equity component,” in the Dream Distributors plans, Echevarria said. “We will work through the county to create food equity, using cooking classes and our program space to help the underprivileged cook.”

Dream Hall also plans to hold farm-to-table dinner events to showcase foods grown in the region and marketed by Dream Distributors.

“The vendors would be coming out of our own ecosystem,” of producers and chefs using Shared Dream Kitchen, Echevarria said.

He also envisions a Dream Market, which would allow some of the produce from Dream Distributors, as well as prepared foods from Dream Kitchen vendors, to be available to the public at large.

Public-Private Partnership

For two years, Kane County has developed the food hub concept with its consultant New Venture Advisors. This process culminated in the selection of a private sector operator by the Kane County Board at its November 14, 2017 meeting. Kane County captured over $ 200,000 in grant funds from a variety of investors to prepare for this hand off to a private operator.

Kane County concluded a feasibility study for the operation of a local food hub last year; a recommendation of the county’s food system plan, Growing for Kane. The plan identified a food hub as a potential resource to farmers, enabling them to distribute their food products to wholesale buyers who would otherwise be discouraged from doing business with them.

Dream Hub will up-front much of the start-up costs to launch Dream Distributors. Kane County Economic Development funds will fund business planning and a grant from the Chicago Community Trust will help purchase equipment that processes vegetables for use in schools.

Kane County’s feasibility study also identified a series of health equity strategies that could be adopted as part of the food hub’s operating plan, including the healthy subscription box program. The food hub project and the planning process that proceeded it is a reflection of Kane County’s “health in all policies” approach to community planning efforts, recognizing the connection between land use and health.

Patty Marco of Maple Park-based Wiltse’s Farm is just one of the producers who have taken part in the food hub’s development, meeting with the consultant and county planners during the feasibility study phase.

She is excited, Marco said, because the hub will allow the family-run operation to expand its market locally. While they will still sell to farmers markets and local retailers “this is another market that we haven’t touched. This is a bridge to get us to the next step,” in bringing their produce to area customers, Marco said.