Emilio Panasci, Co-founder and Executive Director of Urban Agriculture Cooperative

Since launching in 2020, The Cooperative Market, a pilot food hub project spearheaded by Urban Agriculture Cooperative (UAC), a grassroots nonprofit based in Newark, has been connecting rural and urban farms in northern New Jersey with urban communities and institutions to increase access to healthy local food. Sales have increased steadily from $13,500 in its pilot year, to $50,000 in 2021, to a projected $150,000 by the end of 2022.

The Cooperative Market strives to rebuild a local food system to benefit historically underserved growers and consumers lacking healthy food access. The program not only works to help distribute healthy, local food into population-dense areas with high demand, but simultaneously provides a key distribution channel to emerging and expanding small to mid-sized farms.

The Foodshed Alliance, which published a Food Hub Feasibility Study in 2018, supports the food hub by enlisting rural farms in northwestern NJ to supply food for the hub.

Several urban farms and community gardens in the Newark area also supply the hub. Each week, urban customers order online and UAC places aggregated orders with participating farms. Our rural farm partners then deliver their food hub produce to a central aggregation point, currently Longmeadow Farm in Hope, where it is picked up by UAC and taken to Newark. There the food is sorted for delivery to five distribution points in Newark and East Orange, where customers come to pick up their food. Approximately 30% of customers use nutrition benefits, such as SNAP and WIC.

We are now working with several institutional buyers, such as food pantries and social service agencies, who want to buy local fresh produce for their clients through the food hub.

As the program continues to grow, the Foodshed Alliance is committed to working with UAC, as well as producers and consumers, to rebuild infrastructure that supports an inclusive, self-sustaining, just and caring food economy in New Jersey for the benefit of all people and the planet.