On February 4, 2016 Hub on the Hill (facebook.com/thehubonthehill) welcomed the public to tour their new food production and distribution facility. Unfortunately I was out of town during the open house. Fortunately Jori Wekin offered me a sneak peek, so I dropped in last Thursday to see firsthand the progress being made. My most succinct update? Wow!
Hub on the Hills’ handsome walls offer a silent reminder that our farmers — and the communities that are sustained by them — are resilient.
These are exciting times at the intersection of Route 22 and Middle Road. I won’t duplicate Kim Smith Dedam’s excellent coverage (“Hub-on-the-Hill brings opportunity to small farms“) which was published by the Press-Republican on Feb 10. (N.B. if you haven’t yet read the article, I encourage you to do so now.) By way of orientation, I’ll borrow Dedam’s tidy introduction to the perennially smiling, understated-but-oh-so-enterprising Jory Wekin.
[Hub on the Hill was] founded by a collaboration of local producers under the organizational prowess of coordinator Jori Wekin. (Source: pressrepublican.com)
That smiling, enterprising, skilled organizer wowed me repeatedly as we explored the Hub on the Hill. Please join me for a look around.
Welcome to Hub on the Hill
The building is still undergoing exciting transformation. An aura of incubation and possibility emanates from the eastside entrance as I approach. Jori started my tour in a multi-use room (think farmers’ market meets café/bistro meets shared workspace…) that is a 100% re-imagination of the once-upon-a-time hardware store I remember entering through the same doorway a long, long time ago.
The welcoming interior offers a casual nod to our local North Country farms. Corrugated tin ceiling panels have been up cycled from a neighbor’s barn roof. Their mottled, timeworn patina remembers our Champlain Valley’s long agricultural heritage. The walls are clad in weathered boards that evoke a more recent — and still poignant — farming narrative. The lumber is local too, but its presence on these walls is a small miracle.
After being sustainably harvested with draft horses by Chad Vogel (Reber Rock Draftwood natural woodsman and co-manager of Reber Rock Farm), the wood was milled and stacked for seasoning and storage adjacent to the barn that burned to the ground at Reber Rock the spring. Miraculously the wood was not damaged. Hub on the Hills’ handsome walls offer a silent reminder that our farmers — and the communities that are sustained by them — are resilient.
Colab + Flex Space
As we begin to make our way deeper into the building I am swept up in Jori’s energy which is as vast as her vision. Simply put, her enthusiasm is contagious.
“We haven’t figured out what to call it yet,” Jori said, reflecting on the charming retail space we’ve just left.
She explained that it will morph to meet the needs of the community. Will it become a farm store? Will it be a coffee shop? A restaurant? Maybe all three of these. Maybe more. The vision is still evolving.
We talked about wi-fi. Customers could stop in for provisions or lunch or an impromptu meeting, and they could settle in for a while and get some work done. I mentioned that I’ve daydreamed about helping incubate a local collaborative workspace, and Jori nodded, smiling. Yes, she agreed, that’s happening here too.
There’s much buzz in the media lately about the “sharing economy”, and the Hub on the Hill embodies much that is exciting about this trend. Collaborative, flexible, nimble, perpetually evolving.
A Room with a View
She led me down the hall past former storage units (now mostly being used for food production and distribution) to a sunlight-filled corner office with multiple workstations and views east across Lake Champlain to Vermont’s Green Mountains, south across the the Champlain Valley foothills, and southwest toward the Adirondacks.
Basically breathtaking views span clear from Vermont’s Green Mountains all the way to New York’s High Peaks. Combine winning views with the winning location — Hub on the Hill is perfectly situated at the intersection of NYS Route 22 (through-traffic) and Middle Road (local traffic) — and the Hub on the Hill’s potential becomes obvious. After all, it’s located smack dab on the principle transit route between Route 87 North and the Essex-Charlotte ferry, just one more affirmation that this fledgling enterprise, this nexus of hopes and dreams and ambitions, is the hub at the center of so much innovation and so many rich natural and cultural resources.
When I asked why there were so many workstations in the handsome corner office Jori explained.
“It’s another shared space… Other people are coming in to use it. They’re working here too.”
It’s all beginning to make sense.
Shared spaces and shared resources. This theme is no more evident than in The Hub on the Hill’s commercial kitchen. This facility is truly impressive. Well configured, well-equipped, spacious, and impeccably organized.
The only drawback I can identify is the view. It shares the same southern exposure as the corner office (see above), sweeping views across well-maintained fields in the foreground and the Champlain Valley and Adirondack High Peaks in the distance. The western exposure looks out across the Sarah and Jay White’s new vineyard, their new barn and old barn silhouetted bucolically against book white mountain.
Why is that a drawback, you ask? Remember, this is a collaborative workspace. Such enchanting views MUST distract those toiling over catering and canning, MUST slightly impact the efficiency that this commercial kitchen exudes. Or perhaps they offer inspiration. Get the work done. And then go play!
There will be much more to report on this innovative Essex enterprise in the months ahead, but for now know that good things are happening. Lots and lots and lots of them. If you have a hope or a suggestion, let Jori Wekin know. She’s an attentive listener, and she would excited to hear from you.
Just before departing, she said that they’re still brainstorming what to do with the exterior of the building. “Maybe it would be nice to make the exterior of the building more attractive,” she thought allowed. I quickly vertical gardens. Maybe hops growing up the front of the building? Some wistaria wrapped around the columns?
What’s your suggestion?
The Hub on the Hill
545 Middle Road
Essex, NY 12936