Rose Spickler: The Last Mile

Rose Spickler, Muskegon Food Hub


Hello everyone, I'm Rose Stickler and I am the Manager of the Muskegon Food Hub.

The Muskegon Food Hub was born in 2017, and really was kicked off and pushed hard this past April and throughout the summer. It’s been a really fun ride, but we'd have some food hurdles, or some hurdles in general, to jump over. Our food hub is currently a one woman show, hi. I do have the benefit of a small advisory board which is wonderful, and a very supportive community. But that being said, when I started the Food Hub Manager position, I had great dreams and zero experience.

At one time, our food hub was operated out of the local farmers market, with only pickups, no deliveries, all out of the email inbox and minimal capacity for the storage of food. When I began with the food hub, my goal was to expand the food hub to being able to make deliveries, so we could take orders, make the deliveries, really connect people and really be a benefit for local farms to not have to do those deliveries. Save time, save money, that sort of thing.

In order to do so, we needed some sort of acceptable form of delivery for our product, and, first and foremost, that means we needed a truck to deliver. We needed something large enough to transport our food, which is expensive, and we needed a refrigerated vehicle, which is even more expensive and hard to find. So, after several months of looking at refrigerated trucks, we ran into the same problem that many food hubs around the country run into. We couldn't find something that was large enough or was refrigerated, or that actually ran for our food hub, and we were kind of back in the same position that we had started in - still operating where farmers would deliver and our local buyers would come pick it up at the farmer's market. It wasn't really a benefit to them, so we were starting to see a decrease of our customers. 

So, we had gotten no closer to delivering in the produce, and fortunately for us around that time, Cherry Capital Foods in Traverse City reached out to the Muskegon Food Hub and from there, that's where our own stone soup, or our mutually beneficial partnership came from.

We partnered together to form a pilot program that we dubbed “The Last Mile” delivery program. The Muskegon Food Hub now leases a Cherry Capital Foods truck, this beautiful truck you can see here. It’s a refrigerated truck for the use of our own deliveries, and then in addition, Cherry Capital Foods had many institutions that they delivered food to on the lake shore. So, they already were delivering food to institutions and companies along our route. With the volume that they were delivering, Cherry Capital was sometimes needing to deliver twice a week, which was an awesome problem to have but the capacity wasn't up to that demand. They asked us to step in and help out with the last mile deliveries, and that created a great partnership for us.

So now, Cherry Capital drops off their products with us and we take the last mile in their truck, in the leased truck, for their customers. Because of that partnership, we are able to deliver to their customers as well as ours, which saves us time and gas and food miles, and we’re able to offer more food products to our local organizations, which is great.

We owe a really big thanks to the leadership of a lot of people in this room - Marty Granser, Heather and Scott Herman, Evan, Chip, and other a leaders in both Muskegon County and Cherry Capital in Traverse City for making the successful collaboration happen. We're really excited to be able to use our notes for other food hubs and other organizations in the state, so that other people can kind of jump on The Last Mile Delivery bandwagon and use these partnerships.

We've been compiling these notes, and throughout the past summer and fall and we've had our fair share of hiccups that we could add to these notes. We’re very fortunate that food change agents are very passionate, we’re very determined and maybe little bit stubborn, so we just keep taking more and more lessons. For example, I didn't know that diesel trucks need to be plugged in during the winter months, so that was a fun lesson. I don’t know how many of you knew that, , but you know you learn something every day, so there you go. So, just little lessons like that, and about best practices, whether it’s serve safe best practices or food safety, that sort of thing. Because Cherry Capital has been in operation since 2007, there's a lot of things that we have been able to learn from them about those best practices that have been very helpful to starting up and really getting our food hub off the ground.

One of our largest setbacks continues to be finding a part time truck driver with a license to drive that larger refrigerated truck, and then getting them to stick around. So, this is a wonderful Muskegonite and we love her, and unfortunately, but fortunately for her, she was promoted to a full-time salary position. She's like a major success story, but a huge bummer for us because she was wonderful. She was our most recent driver for us. But Cherry Capital and the Muskegon Food Hub partnership continues to communicate about best practices to hiring truck drivers, finding truck drivers, and we're currently discussing the potential of sharing truck drivers around the state for other food hubs that would like to be involved as well.

We think our pilot program has been a big success, a successful project and we’re really excited to share our notes with other food hubs around the state to promote even more partnerships. We're really hopeful that the pilot program has helped provide more information so that we can do that for other food hubs. With our program, we were able to expand the Muskegon Food Hub customers, including Whitehall and Montague Public Schools, to get farm food to more institutions near us. And then like I mentioned before, Cherry Capital was able to keep some of their customers that they would not have had the twice a week run capacity to do and that we can run for them, so it's only a good thing right. 

We are excited about the potential of more success stories like our own, so if you know of anybody who is interested in partnering up with that sort of hub and spoke sort of “last mile delivery” food system, we're really excited to share those notes.

Cherry Capital Food Employee (Photo provided by Rose Spickler)