We are honored to host the secretary and the rest of you. Thank you to the secretary and the usda for supporting the agricultural infrastructure that builds resilient and robust local food economies, that supports small farms, and builds prosperous urban and rural communities.
I believe that food can be a connector. Food unites all of us: rural or urban, regardless of race and political affiliation – through sharing food and feeding each other we build genuine communities and we can heal our divides.
My name is Simon Huntley and I’m the founder and CEO of Harvie: we are a food delivery company based here in Pittsburgh that works with 100s of local farmers and delivers direct-to-door to 4000+ local consumers to make the local food economy easy for both farmers and consumers.
You are sitting in our new distribution center that we are working to get set up over the next few months. This is the future home of local food in western Pennsylvania! We need this kind of infrastructure to fulfill the bold dream of a robust and resilient local food economy. We’ve slowly and carefully built a scaleable model that can be rolled out in every community across the country, using our hometown of Pittsburgh as our test market.
But why does a local food economy matter?
Over the past 50 years in American agriculture we’ve broken the connections between each other in the name of a national and international food system that prioritizes efficiency over the well being of consumers, workers, and our land. We don’t know the people who feed us, the people who feed us don’t know us, so corners are cut on both sides of the food economy – it’s a race to the bottom.
This system has destroyed so many rural communities, including the one I grew up in.
I grew up on a small Appalachian farm 70 miles south of here, the son of a coal miner and a farmer. It was never a question for me growing up: I would leave that rural community to find opportunities in an urban area that didn’t exist where I grew up.
As I left the farm to study technology at Penn State University, I started working on farms in the summertime and cooking more and I had this question that hasn’t left me for the last 20 years: why don’t local farms feed local people?
It seems so simple and obvious to me. I’ve spent the last 20 years in business trying to figure out how to get an answer to this simple question. I demand a world and an economy that can allow local farms to feed local people and won’t stop until our food economy supports farms like the one I grew up on, so a farm kid in my shoes now sees a future on the farm – that is rural prosperity to me.
In January 2020 we launched our first Harvie distribution center just a block from here, recognizing that we needed to make local food easy for both our customers and our farmers to scale the local food economy.
We’ve spent the last four years developing this physical infrastructure to bring local food direct to our customer’s front door and to make local food as easy as ordering from Amazon. We developed packaging that works for local groceries, bought trucks, set up a packline and have grown our team from 8 to 60. Local food creates jobs!
We now source 700 products from 150 farms and producers and deliver to thousands of households across Allegheny County each week.
For our region’s farmers and producers, Harvie has extended their sales beyond smaller channels like farmers markets without making the sometimes impossible demands that a large grocery chain presents. We pay our farmers 50 cents of every dollar vs. 14 cents in the national food system due to the shorter, and more resilient, supply chain. It is often the case that the Harvie warehouse is the only stop between the farmer’s field and your fork.
This is a powerful model that can be replicated across this country.
However, this business of local food is extremely difficult. It’s capital intensive and we are competing against a huge food system churning out massive amounts of cheap food. From government, we need investment in the infrastructure that it takes to build a resilient local food economy so we can scale and compete against an entrenched food system that is not interested in change.
Working alongside farmers, butchers, bread makers, chefs and many more – as well the support of the members who eat this food – we can build a food economy that rebuilds the connections between rural and urban communities and be the kind of society where a young farm kid like me decides to stay and build a livelihood on a rural farm.
Thank you for being here and being part of this conversation. I look forward to collaborating with all of you in realizing this dream of a robust and resilient local food economy!