NSAC's Blog

Guest Blog: New report shows food buyers how regional hubs work

March 13, 2014

Editor’s Note: We want to thank John Fisk, from NSAC member the Wallace Center, for his contribution.  Dr. Fisk is the director of the Wallace Center at Winrock International.  He is also a founding board member of the National Food Routes Network, an editorial board member of the Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, and an active member of the Sustainable Food Laboratory and the Sustainable Agriculture Food System Funders Group.

Groceries and food service companies nationwide are discovering that the best way to meet consumer demand for local food is by teaming up with food hubs.

That’s the key takeaway from a new Wallace Center resource.

Food Hubs: Solving Local demonstrates the essential intermediary role that food hubs play in bridging the gap between smaller-scale farms and larger-scale wholesale.

Fellow NSAC members and policymakers will find plenty here to put to use in upcoming federal appropriations and budgeting battles.

Solving Local’s target audience is food retailers and distributors trying to meet the persistent and increasing demand for local food.   The report is a business-oriented package of facts and examples.  It demonstrates how regional food hubs deliver the safe, consistent, and reliable volumes that buyers need and the public health and community benefits the market demands.

At the Wallace Center, our goal with Solving Local is for retail buyers and food distributors to take the next step and start or expand a food hub relationship. We are also confident the quick-study report provides further evidence for policymakers that public investment in local and regional food systems generates significant returns.

Five case studies in the report show how food hubs team up with larger buyers to make local food more widely available and profitable:

  • Red TomatoThis food hub lines up the supply, logistics, and marketing for branded local food programs featuring products from a network of farms in the Northeast.
  • Good Natured Family FarmsOperating out of a regional grocery chain’s warehouse, this branded alliance of 150 farmers supplies metropolitan Kansas City and beyond.
  • Cherry Capital FoodsThe Michigan logistics company leverages accounts with Kroger and Chartwells to build statewide routes that connect demand and supply.
  • Common MarketThe Philadelphia distributor brings wholesome food to the inner city and Mid-Atlantic region by linking area farms with small food service accounts.

More than 200 food hubs now operate across the country with an average of $3 million in revenue last year, according to our 2013 national survey with Michigan State University.  Each works with an average of 80 small to medium size farms, generating real returns to communities and delivering the transparency and benefits consumers want.

More than 60 percent of food hubs operate independently of the grant funding that often gets them started.

The success of hubs is an important story for advocates trying to ensure the availability of greater resources for fruit and vegetable producers in the new Farm Bill.

One of the profiled hubs, Cherry Capital Foods, hails from Michigan—home state of U.S. Senate Agriculture committee chair Debbie Stabenow.  Her leadership in the last Farm Bill around sustainable agriculture and regional food system programs was touted in last Sunday’s New York Times.

Solving Local can help make the case for stronger federal commitment to policies and programs that promote local food production, marketing, infrastructure, and consumer access.

Partnering with NSAC remains an important means for Wallace to advance our mission of facilitating market-based approaches to a more sustainable food and farm sector. In 2008, we launched the National Good Food Network, a peer-to-peer collaborative of regional food entrepreneurs and initiatives.  On March 26-28, NGFN will convene a sold-out food hub conference in Raleigh, NC.  This report is another step in our work to support and promote the new business models that make local and regional food systems work.

Categories: General Interest, Local & Regional Food Systems, Rural Development

Comments are closed.