If all goes to plan, Fort Worth’s newest agriculture hub could distribute 300 million pounds of fresh produce across North Texas by 2026. The hub will go a long way toward fighting food insecurity in the area.

The $16 million, 80,000-square-foot distribution center on North Vacek Street will be transformed into an agricultural hub with the goal of making fresh produce 40% of the food bank’s total distribution, up from the current 22%. Spearheaded by the Tarrant Area Food Bank, this new distribution center will allow the food bank to process fruits and vegetables from the Valley and Mexico more efficiently. 

Julie Butner, president and chief executive officer of the Tarrant Area Food Bank, said this new, more extensive distribution center will help get produce out into the community faster. 

“Those who don’t have access to produce are more likely to have one of those top five chronic diseases: diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer,” she said. “And so that’s why it’s important to us as a food bank to get behind providing produce to the community because it has a direct impact on the people who live in those communities.”

According to the Tarrant Area Food Bank, weekly distribution rose back to 900,000 meals compared with the recent 800,000 due to rising living costs. At the height of the pandemic, the food bank was distributing 1 million meals a week. 

Fort Worth’s proximity to Arkansas and Oklahoma could also prove useful to the food bank, as each state has food hubs run by a local food bank. Arkansas has a chicken hub and Oklahoma has a beef hub.

This opens the possibility of trading leftover produce for much-needed protein, Butner said.

“The two Ps — protein and produce — are the most expensive things for people to buy. And especially now, cost is at an all-time high. And so having a surplus in produce which Arkansas needs produce, Oklahoma needs produce — we will be able to trade it for protein,” she said.

Produce is usually processed in the Valley, where bulk shipments are repackaged into smaller quantities. This new distribution center will allow the processing of the fruits and vegetables to take place in the heart of Fort Worth before being shipped over to partner agencies across North Texas. 

“There are seven food banks that are really interested in having an agriculture hub, and we don’t think there’s just going to be one,” Butner said.

Ways to Give Back

If you’d like to support the food bank, here are ways to help out:

  1. Direct donations. There are several types of donations available on the Tarrant Area Food Bank’s website, which can be found here.
  2. Volunteer. There are several programs at the food bank and at partner agencies. You can sign up here.  

The agriculture hub will also act as the perfect environment for workforce development. Tarrant Area Food Bank said the hub will not only provide jobs but will also offer classes focused on urban farming. Rising costs of land have pushed out many generational farmers over the years. 

“We will be bringing people in to learn about farming and fresh fruits and vegetables that hopefully will go on to be growers and farmers which we desperately need in North Texas,” Butner said.

Tarrant Area Food Bank is working with Feeding Texas and Feeding America to build relationships with growers, brokers and packing houses, and establish the necessary supply chain for the hub, according to the food bank.

Feeding America is hoping to add an additional 70 produce trucks per day within four years above its current 2022 baseline to distribute more fresh fruits and vegetables nationwide. The Fort Worth hub would serve as a critical link in this strategy, according to the food bank. 

The Tarrant Area Food Bank’s goal is to accommodate 40 produce trucks per day by 2026 — providing about 300 million pounds of produce annually. 

Social enterprise

The new distribution center will be housed in a vacant building on 205 N. Vacek St. — just across from the Tarrant Area Food Bank’s current warehouse. The purchase of the building is estimated at $8 million. 

The city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County is expected to vote on whether to use American Rescue Plan Act dollars to support the purchase of the new center during the next few months.

Fort Worth City Council could allocate $3.2 million with the remaining $4.8 million coming from Tarrant County. 

Fort Worth City Council has put on hold all recommended ARPA projects after council members felt the proposals by staff were rushed and premature. Project discussions will start again once an updated list is confirmed, according to Michelle Gutt, communications and public engagement director. This includes the Tarrant Area Food Bank’s request. City Council will not meet again until August

Kristen Camareno, one of the Tarrant County assistant administrators overseeing the ARPA funds, said Tarrant Area Food Bank was one of 131 community proposals submitted for the $35.5 million available pool. An internal committee is currently reviewing all proposals and will make recommendations to the Commissioners Court in mid- to late July. 

“We received about twice the proposals we expected. So it is taking about twice as long to review and score (them),” Camareno said. “We felt it was important to allow opportunities for all qualifying agencies to submit proposals to be evaluated. And it’s likely that there will be several conversations still before recommendations are made in July.”

Another $8 million will be needed to renovate the inside of the building and make it food-friendly and climate-controlled, Butner said. That amount will be covered by a nearly $8 million Texas Department of Agriculture’s Food Bank Capacity Building Grant program — of which $3.5 million will be used on this specific project. An additional $1.5 million grant from the Sid Richardson Foundation will be used for renovations.

“The state’s very interested in us doing this work because Tarrant Area Food Bank is located in the perfect place to trade with other food banks,” Butner said. “We’re right on I-30 and I-40, and I-20 and we’re right here at the Mixmaster (the I-35W and I-30 interchange).”

The purchase of the building is on hold until funding is approved.  Butner said the goal is to have the center fully operational nine months after purchase but is subject to change. 

“This is so important to our community, and I hope that I get the support that I need from the city. We are the largest supplier of food in this community. There’s nobody bigger than us providing food,” she said.

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at sandra.sadek@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter at @ssadek19.

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Sandra Sadek

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Houston, she graduated from Texas State University where she studied journalism and international...