It could easily have been another short-lived food experiment. A food cooperative in the rural and sparsely populated West End that aimed to provide local, fresh and affordable food to regional shoppers? Sounded almost too good to be true.
But unlike so many health food stores that have come and gone, Norwood’s Fresh Food Hub approached things differently. Instead of solely selling groceries, the Hub set out to act as both an educational resource and a link between the West End’s producers and consumers. It opted to operate on volunteer labor and under the umbrella of a nonprofit. And, perhaps most importantly, the Hub strove from day one to make good food affordable to all members of the community, no matter their socioeconomic status.
It appears to have worked. In the last year, the Hub has experienced significant growth in sales, purchasing numbers, infrastructure and funding. Along the way, it has established itself as its namesake would imply: a community hub, a place where residents find local lettuce and grass-fed beef, but also support their small-town nonprofits, learn about events on the West End and catch up with one another. In that way, the Hub has helped to grow community.
“The growth is due to our hard-working volunteers, along with all of the community programming to educate locals about choosing a healthier lifestyle by simply eating local, seasonal food,” Hub board member Mel Eggers said. “I think people are starting to see the value in supporting their local producers, too.”
In its annual letter to members, the Hub ticked off some highlights of 2018, including a 77 percent increase in sales as of Oct. 1, from $96,484 in 2017 to $170,979 in 2018. The co-op also reports a 75 percent increase in local goods purchased during that period. Now at 40 members, 25 volunteers and six board members, the Hub also hired its very first employee, store manager Mesa Owens (during its first two years it ran entirely on volunteer labor).
Along with operating its storefront, the Hub provided local food boxes to 30 low-income households over the summer through the Town of Mountain Village’s Farm to Community program, selling more than $11,000 of local produce and meat through the food share project. The Hub also participated in the Mountain Village farmers market, bringing Norwood-grown produce, meat and goods to the mountain community.
But its purpose is health driven as well. In that vein, the Hub began participating in a produce prescription program with Norwood’s Uncompahgre Medical Center and Naturita’s Basin Clinic, which is funded through the Local Food Initiative.
Other 2018 accomplishments include raising more than $300 for other nonprofits in the community, providing support for the local food bank, launching a new website and offering online ordering for a weekly delivery service to Telluride.
The Hub is also one of the beneficiaries of a nearly $900,000 grant awarded to the Telluride Foundation this fall. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration grant aims to boost economic development efforts in western Colorado.
The Hub opened its doors in March 2016. It was spearheaded by Leila Seraphin, a community organizer from California who moved to Norwood to raise animals and grow food. She started the Hub for personal reasons — to get her hands on organic, fresh and sustainably produced food. But what began as a buyer’s club soon turned into something more as she realized the Hub could act as a catalyst to improve the nutrition, health and economy of the West End’s food scene.
Today, the Hub is located in a blue house on Norwood’s main drag. The shop is small, but packed in its cases and shelves are all manner of healthy and local goods. Depending on the season, you’ll find tomatoes grown at Norwood’s Birdhouse Farm, grass-fed beef from Nucla’s Garvey Brothers Ranch, loaves of organic sourdough bread from down the street at Blue Grouse Bread, greens from Indian Ridge Farm, lamb from Snyder Ranch and tinctures from Shining Mountain Herbs in Ridgway. There are staples like milk and eggs, bulk goods like oats and nuts and exotic items like Brewer’s yeast and kimchi.
Hub board member Hannah Rossman said that despite the growth of internet shopping, many consumers still want a tangible connection to their foods and goods.
“I think people are becoming continuously more aware of why it’s important to know where our food comes from,” Rossman said. “Norwood is lucky that food was already something here for us to grasp onto. The Hub just encourages that growth by making local food affordable for customers and by supplying a reliable market for vendors.”