A transformation is about to take place at the site of the former Newport Station District School.
Heather Lunan, of Pie R Squared, and public health dietitian Rebecca Tran are joining forces to create The Station Food Hub.
The site purchase became official on April 10 and the business partners are eager to get down to business.
“We came up with the name The Station Food Hub and what we’d love to see here is... a space for food processing, food production, food distribution, (and) storage,” said Tran.
“It’s a piece of infrastructure that has been told to us that’s been missing in Nova Scotia,” she added.
Food hubs are an emerging supply chain model that helps farmers and food producers distribute local products to a wider market. It offers customers more transparency in terms of being able to trace where the food is sourced and how it was made.
“We’re bringing together the strength of a number of smaller entities to produce something that will undoubtedly have a bigger impact and help push Nova Scotia’s whole economy forward — certainly agriculture,” said Lunan.
And impacting not only the health of Nova Scotians but the economy is something the pair are eager to do.
“Goal 16 of the Ivany Report (One Nova Scotia) is to increase domestic food consumed and produced in Nova Scotia — that’s something that we definitely want to impact,” said Tran.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Tran, who lives in Martock, and Lunan, who lives in Wolfville, met in 2017 and immediately connected.
“We had very similar values and dreams as far as moving the local food movement forward in Nova Scotia,” said Lunan.
After their first meeting, the pair stayed in touch and soon committed to building a business together.
“I’ve had a food production business — Pie R Squared — for nine years; almost as long as we’ve been here (in Nova Scotia),” Lunan said.
Pie R Squared, headquartered in Wolfville, specializes in healthy, prepared meals using local meats and fresh produce. The products cater to people with allergies by offering gluten-free, vegetarian and dairy-free options.
She knew it was time to either expand or call it a day. After discussions with Tran, the pair knew there was still much work to be done in terms of getting more local food into the hands and stomachs of Nova Scotians.
“We will bring together our talents and form something a little different and new and incorporate, somehow, Pie R Squared into whatever it is we do,” said Lunan.
The Newport Station District School, which housed students from Primary to Grade 6, closed in 2015. The owners of an aquaponics venture attempted to set up shop there, but were unsuccessful.
“We looked around at a few other locations for a home for our plans and this building came up. It was very, very quick,” Lunan said.
The same day they toured the site they put in an offer to purchase it.
"We hit the jackpot, I think, when we found this space because we have 17,000 square feet so now we can do a whole lot more and we can offer a lot more than just a food processing business,” said Tran.
“With the 14 classrooms, we’re hoping to outfit them and lease them out to food businesses.”
Essentially, they will become landlords of other food and agriculture-related businesses that will be housed under one roof.
“Food trucks might want a space to prep all of their food,” said Tran, when asked what types of businesses may be attracted to the food hub model.
Restaurateurs from the city or Valley may also be drawn to the site.
“The other stream that is becoming apparent to us is restaurants that are short on kitchen space,” said Lunan. “Having a space where they could do prep work off-site frees up their kitchen space for assembly or for more tables in their restaurant, or what-have-you. They can rent production space at a cheaper square footage rate and because we’re so close to the city, that opens up a very interesting possibility for Halifax businesses.”
Additionally, they said the hub would be the perfect spot for a business trying to expand.
They plan to revamp the existing school kitchen and offer it as a short-term rental.
“That could be used for somebody who has a small business who makes food for the market but they only need a space one or two days a week in an inspected kitchen,” said Tran.
With new, more stringent regulations in the Safe Food for Canadians Act, Lunan said many smaller businesses that process food will need a space to work to offer consistently safer products to consumers.
“We will provide that space so people will be able to come in and, with confidence, produce what they want to produce,” said Lunan.
The gymnasium will serve as a multipurpose event space that could be rented out for community events and suppers.
“I think whatever comes our way, if it fits with our values, then we will make sure they can be housed here,” said Tran.
Tran and Lunan are very much in the initial phases of developing the hub but they plan to have it ready for tenants in June.
The site also offers nine acres of land so the business partners say there’s an opportunity to do some farming.
“We are hoping to be able to produce food to sell to schools, to institutions, as early as this season… in a format that’s going to make it easier for cafeterias to be able to use,” Tran said.
They’re excited to be part of the area’s revitalization efforts and are looking forward to collaborating with others to further promote the local food movement.
“There’s nothing but potential here,” said Lunan.