On a freezing day at the call center for Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Fairfield, Matt Tremblay and Colleen Hanlon-Smith unloaded boxes of vegetables, meat and dairy from local farms.

The boxes, neatly packaged and marked “Unity Food Hub,” will be picked up by employees participating in a new workplace community-supported agriculture program.

“It’s like Christmas in here. Everybody is so excited,” said Sandy Turner, human resources manager for Johnny’s, as she carefully unpacked her box of veggies – including locally grown potatoes, sunchokes, leeks and squash – and transfered them to a reusable grocery bag in the basement of the call center.

The new workplace CSA offers farmers the chance to sell products on a wholesale scale to the food hub, which in turn sells shares of the produce and delivers them. The program is in place at Johnny’s and Maine Farmland Trust, although the food hub hopes to expand. Participants sign up for their shares in advance, so they don’t always know what they’ll be receiving, though they are guaranteed a certain amount of fresh locally grown food.

It’s also one way that the new Unity Food Hub, which had a soft opening in November and will open officially in the spring, is aiming to address the challenges that face local agriculture and expand the availability of local food. Located inside the former Unity Grammar School, which dates to 1898 and is undergoing renovations, the food hub was started by the nonprofit Maine Farmland Trust, an organization whose aim is to preserve and protect farmland, but the plan is for it to eventually stand on its own as a for-profit entity.

“There’s so many policies and regulations to be mindful of (in the food industry) and food hubs are a creative approach to trying to navigate those logistics in a way that works for all the partners,” said Mike Gold, program manager for farm viability at Maine Farmland Trust. “The food hub concept is fairly experimental and new, and we recognize that. Having said that, we’ve really put a lot of time and resources into making sure we came up with a model that ensured the best success. A couple years from now what I’d really like to see is the food hub meeting a lot of needs of the local community as well as regionally.”

The goals of the food hub are to partner with local farms to help gather, distribute and market food by assisting farmers in placing more of their products with consumers and giving consumers more access to local food. The workplace CSA is a pilot program that distributes about 50 shares of produce, dairy and meat to workers at Johnny’s, as well as to employees at Maine Farmland Trust. The food comes from about 25 farms.

The hub has also expanded on work started by the Maine Farmland Trust, including the organization’s community farm shares for low-income seniors and EBT recipients. The farm share, which is available twice a month in Unity, provides a farmers market atmosphere with produce at half-price for those who qualify.

“There’s nothing really new about the idea of a food hub, but what makes the concept unique is that it’s sort of predicated upon this idea of serving the farmer,” Gold said.