Local food facilities could address gaps in the King County local food system

Numerous studies across the Puget Sound region have confirmed that there is insufficient kitchen, processing, packaging, storage space, and transportation capacity to adequately and efficiently connect local food producers with target markets. Much of the regional infrastructure needed to grow our local food economy no longer exists, is in need of improvement, or is not adequate to meet the needs of small and medium farms and food businesses in our region.

To address this infrastructure gap, King County, in partnership with local food entrepreneurs, launched a project to study the feasibility of developing a consolidated ‘Local Food Facility’ or a network of smaller facilities. The goal is to address processing, storage and distribution needs of multiple food system partners while also providing those partners with ready access to their target markets, especially underserved communities.

Commercial kitchen space for food entrepreneurs (top) and shared cold storage and warehouse space (bottom).

In 2019, a study evaluated the feasibility of a consolidated, or network of, local food facilities. The County asked ECONorthwest to summarize the factors that will influence success and provide a likely scope, scale, and feature list to help a local food facility get off the ground.

A Project Advisory Committee was developed to provide diverse guidance, and project planning will include environmental sustainability review, equity and social justice outcomes, community engagement, and transparency.

Key goals are to address the barriers and challenges that low-income communities and socially disadvantaged entrepreneurs face in accessing the food system infrastructure.  The project will serve the needs of, and be developed in collaboration and partnership with, local communities and potential users of the facility (See, Food Hub Feasibility Study: Closing the gap in our local food system).

In May, ECONorthwest released the Local Food Facility Opportunities Report that builds upon the previous work that King County and its partners have completed in exploring the viability of a local food facility, including numerous needs assessments and best practice studies. These studies have highlighted the need for additional local food system infrastructure.

The purpose of this Opportunities Report is to build upon these past efforts by summarizing, and making understandable, the factors that will influence the feasibility of a local food facility in King County.

Investment and operating capital are scarce within the local food system, and there are gaps in facility and organizational resources. By providing a convenient and centralized facility that addresses these gaps in the value chain, a local food facility could help better coordinate the resources and knowledge local food actors need to operate efficiently and scale up their businesses.

A local food facility in King County could take many forms and have many physical “components.” Through ECONorthwest’s review of existing research and conversations with King County experts, they determined that the following components would be the most critical for a local food facility in King County: 1) commercial kitchens, 2) storage and distribution, 3) contract packing, and 4) value-added processing.

The completion of the Opportunities Report is the first of a two-step process to explore the creation of the food facility in King County. The second step will dig deeper into programmatic, governance, and financial considerations. The final product of this effort will be a preliminary business concept—a concise summary of the facility idea that presents a recommended approach for its creation.

Please read the full Opportunities Report here.

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