At the corner of Geer and Mangum streets, sits a renovated building that is helping to build a farm-to-table food system that goes beyond high-end restaurants and affluent foodies.
The building, a former Gulf filling station built in 1928, serves as a key connection for local nonprofits, small businesses and farmers, providing both office space and cool and cold storage.
Bull City Cool food hub has one freezer and three coolers, all set to different temperatures to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables on their way from small farms and community gardens to local customers, including those in need.
“What makes our (concept) different is we have this public interest mission of building the local community food system and the relationships in it,” said Peter Skillern, executive director of Reinvestment Partners, a nonprofit community development corporation that redeveloped the building, which had its grand opening in September. “Some of the outcomes will be more profitable small farmers, better small businesses and more people who are fed local, healthy food.”
The building, at 902 N. Mangum St., was renovated with the help of a $100,000 economic development grant from the city. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also provided $100,000 for equipment. That money includes a $25,000 sub-grant to Durham Soil & Water Conservation District to work with local farmers to build their capacity.
Bull City Cool’s mission is best explained by looking its tenants, and how they use the building.
Those tenants include Farmer Foodshare, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and Seal the Seasons. Online grocery store Relay Foods and Community Nutrition Partnership, a nonprofit that seeks to grow healthier communities, also plan to move into the food hub.
Farmer Foodshare connects people who grow food to people who need food, said executive director Gini Bell. Its programs includes stations at 30 farmers markets across the state that collect vegetable, produce and monetary donations that go to organizations that feed people in need.
Farmer Foodshare, which moved into Bull City Cool in August, runs it POP Market program there. The market serves as a small-scale food hub that purchases food from family farms looking for new markets and sells it to nonprofit organizations in the Triangle serving low-wealth communities.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Bull City Cool’s giant refrigerators housed boxes of sweet potatoes, broccoli and collards gathered from Triangle farms. The vegetables would soon be delivered to the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service in Chapel Hill, which would provide holiday dinners to at least 700 families.
The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, which also moved into the hub in August, is using the new space to consolidate its gardens, offer more educational opportunities and continue to pack up foods to go home with children through its BackPack Buddies program.
Eliza Bordley, Inter-Faith’s Durham food security coordinator, said volunteers are developing a community garden in a large lot owned and leased to them by Reinvestment Partners across the street from the food hub. While the organization has run gardens across Durham, the larger, consolidated lot allows them to centralize the program and offer more classes and camps.
“We are going to have garden space and classroom space along with parking and bathroom and amenities like that for large groups,” she said. They will also have cold storage to preserve and distribute the products of their garden to Durham residents, she said.