An Interview with Chattanooga's New Local Food Hub Director

It’s clear that Chattanooga is a special place. The amenities and opportunities in our community are a result of Chattanoogans working to lay the groundwork for positive development and growth in our region, leaving it in better shape than it was found. This year, our city made more movement in that direction by bringing Ray Rollison to town. He’s the director of the upcoming Harvested Here local food hub, and is working to get locally grown food to more people while providing farmers with an avenue to increase production. Ray was so kind to take a few minutes to talk with me about himself, the landscape of our local food shed, and how the Harvested Here food hub will help develop it. Chattanooga, (virtually) meet Ray Rollison!

RK: Where were you born? 
 

RR: I was born in a small town in Northern VA, Leesburg. It was predominantly a dairy farming community but today is a very densely populated suburb of Washington DC.

RK: Where did you move from? 

RR: We moved from Urbana, IL to Chattanooga in early May of this year. Urbana is home to the University of Illinois.

RK: How did you get into this line of work?

RR:  I began working in a grocery store while going to college and have remained in the food industry. I have worked in the areas of food retail, wholesale, marketing, operations, distribution, and advertising. We have been so blessed to have lived and worked in many areas of the country.Virginia, New Jersey, Arkansas, California, Pennsylvania, and now Tennessee.

My past job titles have been Merchandising Manager, Director of Business Synergies, Director of Procurement, and Vice President of Merchandising.  I am very proud to add the title Director of the Harvested Here Food Hub to my resume.
 
RK: Do you have any hobbies when you’re not advocating for the local food movement?

 

RR:  My wife Lynn and I enjoying hiking with our 3 year old Lab Bo. I also enjoy reading, mostly historical novels and biographies. We love spending time with our 6-year-old grandson, Rocco, fishing and watching him participate in sports. He lives with our daughter, Deena, and our son-in-law Chris in New Jersey.

RK: Is there a constant theme in feedback that you hear from the farming community about the Harvested Here food hub, or the local food community in general?
 

RR:  The constant theme I hear from the farming and local food community is unity. Growers, restaurateurs, grocery store managers and consumers talk to me about the importance of expanding and sustaining the local food economy. There is a lot of support for the concept of a food hub because it promises to address many of the obstacles that growers currently face in getting their products to market – cold storage, transportation, aggregation- and it simplifies things for the grocery stores and restaurants that want to make local foods available to their customers.

RK: What does the Harvested Here Food Hub do for my community?

RR: Harvested Here will provide a conduit for the local farmer’s bounty to the local restaurants, retail grocers, and institutions. As a mission driven entity, the food hub will provide low cost services to the farmers by marketing, selling, and distributing the farmer’s production. As the farmer’s thrive the local economy benefits. We will also partner with the food bank to increase access to fresh foods for those in greatest need in this community.

RK: Can I do business with the food hub? [Essentially, tell us a bit about the business model.]

RR: The business model for Harvested Here is straightforward. We will source product from the local farms within the Chattanooga region. The product will be aggregated at the food hub facility, inspected for quality, and the food hub staff will support the marketing, sales, and delivery of the goods to the end user.

RK: Is there a benchmark for success with the Harvested Here Food Hub?

RR: One of the benchmarks for success with the Harvested Here Food Hub is increased awareness of the importance of the local agricultural economy. Research shows that only 7% of the locally produced food is consumed in the Chattanooga marketplace. Consider the impact to the local economy by increasing that consumption rate to 15% or 20%. This would inject several million dollars into the local farming economy.

 
RK: How do you measure successes?
 

RR: The success of the food hub can be gauged through a number of metrics. One would be comparing the percent of growth in total regional acres in production from year to year. Another key measurement of accomplishment would be to target “gap” opportunities in specific commodities, develop promotional marketing activity and measure the sales increase from year to year. Growing sales and awareness of local production will enhance the overall local economy.

 
RK:  What organizations do you think are making a big difference in the local food community (local, national, or international)?
 

RR:  Organizations like the Chattanooga Food Bank and Feeding America make huge differences in the lives of those in need by making nutritional food available. Philanthropic foundations like the Benwood Foundation and the Footprint Foundation are making investments in projects like Harvested Here that increase access to local food while building a stronger local food economy.  The collaboration of Crabtree Farms and the Benwood Foundation to create seasonal editions of TasteBuds has been a great contribution to the marketplace. TasteBuds is an excellent regional guide to locally grown and crafted foods.

The local, regional, and national business communities all contribute significantly to charitable and sustainable causes in the Chattanooga area. Many of our local restaurateurs and grocery store managers are committed to providing local options to their customers.
 

RK: In your opinion, what can a Chattanoogan do to help grow the local food community?

 RR: First and foremost, support the local food community by spending your dollars with  the merchants that sell and promote local food products. By asking if the product you are considering to buy is produced locally; you impress your desire to buy local upon the seller.
 

RK: Tell people the advantages of buying local. 

RR:
  •  The local product is fresher.
  •  The local product tastes better; the sustainable farming practices used create better flavor profiles.
  •  Your food dollars stay in the local economy.

“He’s the director of the upcoming Harvested Here local food hub, and is working to get locally grown food to more people while providing farmers with an avenue to increase production. ”