USDA grant will benefit Athens County food hub

NELSONVILLE, Ohio — Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Doug O’Brien recently visited Athens County to announce a grant award of more than $198,000 to help Rural Action and the Southeast Ohio Food Hub Network expand the distribution of locally grown foods.

“Residents in rural communities in Appalachian Ohio have fewer economic and job opportunities compared to other regions,” O’Brien said. “This project is a win-win for all involved because it will not only increase the availability of nutritious, locally-produced foods for consumers, but it will also create additional jobs in the food sector for area businesses.”

Shared resources

The grant is being awarded to Appalachian Ohio’s Rural Action to provide business support, technical assistance and shared infrastructure resources. It is being made through USDA Rural Development’s Rural Business Enterprise Grant program, which finances and facilitates development of small and emerging businesses in rural areas.

The RBEG program supports a broad array of business activities.

The Southeast Ohio Food Hub Network is comprised of the Chesterhill Produce Auction (Morgan County), the ACEnet Nelsonville Business Incubator (Athens County) and the Village of Somerset Farmers’ Market (Perry County).

Rural Action estimates the grant investment will help retain more than 275 food sector jobs and could create as many as 65 new jobs and associated businesses. The food hub network also will allow for easier distribution of fresh, local produce to the Southeast Ohio Food Bank, enabling area residents at every economic level to have access to local foods.

O’Brien noted that the grant also will help facilitate the creation of a centralized cooling space at the Nelsonville Food Hub, allowing it to act as an aggregation point for local food shipments to Columbus and other urban Ohio markets.

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