STLFPC Member Spotlight on Dan Mueller from HOSCO
What does HOSCO stand for?
HOSCO stands for Holistic, Organic, Sustainble, Co-operative.
How did you get started in the food system? How did you get involved with HOSCO?
I come from a farming family and so I’ve always had a passion for agriculture and for being outdoors. When I got into college, that changed more into a interest for environmentalism and the food system was the perfect intersection of agriculture and the environment. My first formal job was at EarthDance where I served as an AmeriCorps Summer Associate as a Program Specialist so I had my hand in all the different programs that they had: youth education, community outreach, etc. That’s how I took root in the good food movement.
And oddly enough, that is where I met Gibron and got involved with HOSCO. He had a group of students out to the farm and while I was giving them a tour, we were able to connect on some important food-related issues. Gibron started HOSCO in 2010 and his primary focus was growing microgreens and producing pumpkin seed oil. Over that time he started realizing the need to create a strong, local food network. When we met, he had been incubating his ideas on creating a food hub and expanding his current farm into a non-profit with a focus on education and community development. Now I serve as the Director of Operations for HOSCO.
What is HOSCO’s mission?
We are currently working on revitalizing and finalizing our mission statement while we’re in our strategic planning, a very transitional phase. Right now it focuses on increasing the economic viability of the local food system, creating careers around food production, aggregation, and delivery and improving the quality of life of residents living in the community. Broadly, our goal is to sustainably facilitate community and economic development through the creation of a local food system via an extensive network of partners.
Can you tell us more about the different parts of HOSCO?
As for right now, there are three primary aspects to HOSCO. First is growing and producing food. Second would be our shared use kitchen/food hub space that is used for education & job training and creating local food products. The third is the community aspect of our organization that includes our grocery delivery program and employment opportunities.
What are the biggest barriers for people who want to farm or work in the food system?
Our focus is specifically on low-income, low-access individuals and communities so our barriers are going to look different than the average person. We have what are considered alternative or nontraditional students, so a lot of times these people are combatting food insecurity, poverty, and/or a criminal offense that makes them less likely to be a candidate for another program. Our intention is true community development by expanding the definition of health to not just include physical well-being and nutrition but also economic well-being and job stability. Our program is the only agri-culinary program in Missouri and we provide holistic education from growing to serving, from farm to table. The lack of these holistic programs might be a big barrier for some. In addition, not a lot of training programs, especially in academia, can cater to the diverse needs of vulnerable populations that don’t have their basic needs met.
What partners do you work with? Why is collaboration important?
We are currently actively partnering with the St. Louis Public Schools, YES (Youth Exploring Science) through the Science Center, the International Institute, and Good Life Growing. There are a lot of siloed efforts in St. Louis as far as good food. There are a lot of people in the movement, however there is a serious lack of collaboration between these organizations. It is very much a competitive spirit. However, the results from being able to coalesce around these issues would be ten-fold in effectiveness. We need to come together because not everyone can do everything. A lot of organizations struggle with capacity, which tends to be a recurring theme in conversations about organizational development. If we are all playing to each others strengths we create a stronger network. A good food system is, most importantly, diverse and allows everyone’s need to be met. The only way we can gain that perspective is by working together. The currently homogenized food system remains in place because it all functions under one umbrella, and the only way to compete with that is for our voice to be loud and for us to utilize the strength we have in numbers.
Any new projects in the works?
We have the North City Food Hub under construction with the aim to be open in early 2018. The food delivery program should be up and operating before then, and our training and apprenticeship program is starting next week for our third year.
How do you see urban agriculture as an important part of St. Louis?
I see it in everything. I think cities that are well-developed have found ways to incorporate urban agriculture more so than we have here in St. Louis. Urban agriculture is a great form of community development, and St. Louis needs a lot of that. I think it addresses the need for food, provides interesting architectural experiments, and promotes endless environmental benefits; urban agriculture is one way St. Louis can help heal its environmental illnesses.
Where do you see the future of STL’s food system?
I definitely see it being a collaboration-based web of community partners that are well-suited to address a variety of needs. I foresee the regular and consistent establishment of food hubs that are innovative and don’t follow the traditional grocery store model. We are already doing many things to get away from that, and I only see this strengthening in the future.