Food Hubs Build Local Food Infrastructure

USDA food hubs
"Regional Food Hubs," one of two 2010 USDA publications on "food hubs"

Two USDA publications issued in 2010 provide useful reports on the challenges and advantages of “food hubs,” a concept that is central to the ongoing revival of local food systems.  These and other publications on food hubs can now be found at www.usda.gov/foodhubs.

“Cooperative Food Hubs” was written by USDA ag economist Alan Borst. It briefly summarizes the functions of a food hub and explains why a cooperative structure often best suits the needs of the producers and other stakeholders:

“A food hub is a facility that is central to producers and has a business management structure that facilitates the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, or marketing of locally or regionally produced food products. Food hubs differ from decentralized markets, where producers and consumers are directly linked—as occurs at farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA) associations, produce stands, or any other direct sales arrangements by individual farmers.

“A food hub functions as an intermediary that—by pooling producers and consumers—adds value to the marketing of produce and facilitates the development of a local food supply chain. Food hubs serve as aggregation points through which smaller producers can collectively market to larger buyers that they would otherwise not have access to. Food hubs, for example, can purchase sufficient liability insurance to enter institutional food markets.”

A food hubs report with more depth and many successful examples can be found in a 41-page pdf produced by the USDA.  “Regional Food Hubs: Understanding the scope and scale of food hub operations” is a national survey from a USDA Agricultural Marketing Services team led by Jim Barham. The survey results from the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” campaign launched in fall 2009 and takes aim at structural barriers that inhibit local food system development.

“Regional Food Hubs” outlines key components and offers numerous examples including nonprofit models (such as Red Tomato), producer/entrepreneur-driven models (such as Tuscarora Organic Growers and New North Florida Cooperative), retail-driven models (La Montañita Co-op and the Wedge Co-op), consumer-driven models (Oklahoma Food Co-op and Iowa Food Co-op), and “virtual” food hubs.

See other articles from this issue: #155 July - August - 2011