WORCESTER — A $3 million investment from the federal government put the Worcester Regional Food Hub over the top on its plans for a new headquarters inside Union Station that will expand its kitchen and food offerings.
Shon Rainford, director of the Worcester Regional Food Hub, said during Thursday’s funding announcement at the city landmark that it will be a huge change from the organization’s current operations.
The space will have more cold storage and hot storage, allowing for the Food Hub to bring more food from area farmers.
“We have bigger equipment, better equipment. We’re going to be able to produce different types of food,” Rainford said.
The Food Hub provides shared kitchen space for startup businesses and runs a wholesaling operation to distribute local food product to area institutions, restaurants and markets. Alumni include downtown doughnut shop Glazy Susan and the One Love Cafe Jamaican restaurant at the Worcester Public Market.
The move to Union Station will allow the Food Hub to conduct its entire operation out of one space. The hub works out of the Greendale People’s Church kitchen on Francis Street and has a warehouse on nearby Rockdale Street.
Timothy P. Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said that with just one kitchen, over 100 businesses have been created out of the Food Hub, with the majority being businesses owned by people of color and women.
U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey announced Thursday the addition of new federal earmarks to bolster the planned construction the Food Hub’s headquarters at Union Station.
Markey said that he worked on securing the $3 million with U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“This federal funding for Massachusetts means we can initiate, strengthen and expand community-based projects that serve our families, businesses and living places every day,” Markey said. “Those projects are going to include spurring our economy, strengthening our resiliency, expanding access to healthcare, safeguarding our climate and help feeding and housing our most vulnerable in every single region of the Commonwealth.”
In January, officials announced a $1 million renovation project at Union Station that will add six industrial kitchens, event space, a storefront and more to aid in the Food Hub’s mission.
The initial money came from the city’s discretionary funding provided by the American Rescue Plan Act. Union Station’s lower levels will become the home of the Food Hub when construction is completed.
The Food Hub now has $4.5 million capital-in-hand for the project, with the $3 million earmark part of nearly $140 million in federal spending that the Massachusetts delegation secured for the state, Markey said.
The Food Hub also received a $100,000 grant from MassDevelopment’s Collaborative Workspace Program and $100,000 in matching funds from the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts in 2020.
Station ‘heart’ of city
In addition to the expanded Food Hub, Markey said that he was happy to see the location being at Union Station, which he referred to as the “heart of Worcester.”
He added that Union Station will be a key part of economic prosperity for the region in the plans for the East-West Rail proposal to have a rail line that crosses through the state. That proposal will be a reality, Markey said, and expects the project to be a part of the $9 billion for transportation in The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed last year.
McGovern said that Congress had stopped implementing spending items that were put in place by members of Congress, but he said such items he pitched in his tenure were responsible for reviving Union Station and launching other economic engines in the city.
“I always thought that was unfortunate. Bureaucrats in Washington don’t always understand what’s possible, or what is important in local communities,” McGovern said.
The funding will strengthen the local food systems and improve access to healthy food that is grown by Worcester County farmers, McGovern said.
“People who have great ideas can now take advantage of these ladders of opportunity and create successful businesses,” McGovern said.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said that the state’s Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program awarded $22.5 million to 147 organizations in the state in order to combat food insecurity and awarded $,494,000 to the Food Hub.
“During the pandemic, we all know that people were harder hit no matter where they were and food insecurity became even more pronounced and a problem that we needed to solve,” Polito said. “And what we needed to do was to be in touch with the food suppliers in the commonwealth … and figure out how to source locally produced and made food.”
Mayor Joseph M. Petty said that the city has been trying to activate Union Station and he believes that the Food Hub headquarters will help to bring more life to the station.
“It’s been so stubborn to activate, so great things will come out of (the new Food Hub headquarters,)” Petty said.
The Worcester Regional Food Hub was founded in 2015 as a collaboration among the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, Regional Environmental Council, Worcester County Food Bank and the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts.
The Food Hub is a project intended to support local farmers, improve access to nutritious local food and serve as an incubator space for entrepreneurship, especially for populations that have been disadvantaged in the food industry.
“The Food Hub has reimagined the production to distribution chain for local farms by connecting regional producers to offer fresh, healthy food directly to communities that need it the most,” Markey said.
Prior to the Food Hub’s plans to move to Union Station, the lower level was used for storage by the city. On Thursday, the space had been mostly cleared out.
Rainford said that the walls to the storage entrance will be replaced with glass so Union Station visitors can see the work inside the new Food Hub headquarters.
Rainford hopes to see the construction team break ground in the next few months and expects the project to be completed early in 2023.
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Worcester Regional Food Hub receives $3 million federal boost for Union Station headquarters