The coming year will be do-or-die time for the Quad-Cities Food Hub, located in the Freight House, Davenport.
The nonprofit group opened its doors in late 2012 and most recently has been supported by a $600,000 grant secured in 2013 through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
But that grant expires this summer, and then the business will be on its own. "We're still fighting for sustainability," Liz Hogan, operations manager, said.
Whether it can survive "is the million dollar question," said Steve Ahrens, director of the Davenport Levee Improvement Commission, which rents out the city-owned Freight House in which the Food Hub is located.
"It continues to move forward; it seems to be reaching out into the community," Ahrens said. "Whether at the end of the day that's enough to pay the bills, I'm not close enough to it to know. But I know they're working very hard to further their mission."
That mission is to support local food production, connect farmers and consumers in Iowa and Illinois and promote healthy eating. To those ends, it has several departments under its roof, among them a store where farmers sell their products, including vegetables, meat and honey. Some of those farmers also sell in the Freight House Market and some do not.
The Food Hub also sells crafts on consignment, such as soap and wool mittens, teaches classes and provides a commercial kitchen where small businesses can make food to sell without having to invest in their own commercial kitchen, thereby serving as a business incubator.
Through a subscription website, the Food Hub acts as a middleman, connecting farmers with restaurants or stores where they can sell their products.
This is the area where Food Hub board member Matt Mendenhall sees the greatest opportunity to become self-sustaining. He hopes the nonprofit can greatly expand its online connections this year, connections that farmers then pay for.
"Hopefully that (can) become a sizeable revenue stream," he said.
More incubator clients also would help. At present there are three, and the kitchen could accommodate 10 more, Hogan said.
In an attempt to attract new customers, boost sales and just generally freshen up, the Food Hub closed Dec. 25 for a three-week renovation, with a grand reopening planned for Friday, Jan. 13.
On a recent day, a majority of the Food Hub's dozen-plus employees were on their hands and knees, cutting up and tearing out carpet left behind by the previous occupants and stained through the years.
The plan is to replace it with a polished surface by coating the concrete floor with self-leveling epoxy, then painting and sealing it. "There will be a lot of husbands and dads helping out," Hogan said.
Elsewhere, employees were moving shelves and equipment around so that when the doors reopen, nearly everything will be rearranged. The goal is to make more efficient use of space, carving out more room for classes, which were filled to overflowing, and more room for grab-and-go food items, both of which will boost revenue.
In 2017, the Food Hub expects to offer 55-60 classes, from basic cooking to more involved pursuits such as pastries and kombucha, a fermented tea, to crafts, such as making terrariums.
While the Food Hub will charge for those classes, it also will offer identical classes for free to low-income people through partnerships with Family Resources or Community Health Care, as part of its mission, Hogan said.
"We will get them here or we will go to them," she said of the targeted population. You can give a person kale, but if they don't know what to do with it, it does little good, she explained.
As for the grab-and-go food items, "we're trying to market to the lunch crowd," she said.
Rearranging also will put the crafts sales room "front and center" so that people shopping the farmers market can't help but see it.
Also part of the $3,000 renovation is installation of a new 6-foot square walk-in cooler purchased second-hand from a restaurant that closed that will be used for the hub's Food Box program. This is a weekly grocery subscription service that operates May through December in which customers get, for $20 weekly, a bag of five to seven food items such as produce, eggs, honey and baked goods.
Also part of the renovation is new paint in colors of eggshell white, light blue and turquoise green. "So it feels fresh and bright, like a spring day," Hogan said.
And although the big, $600,000 grant is expiring, Food Hub managers can pursue other grants to help fund programs.
The Food Hub was championed by former Mayor Bill Gluba who traveled with several others on a fact-finding mission to a food hub in Detroit. They brought back the idea as something to be tried in Davenport, and to give new use to Freight House space.