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USDA Releases Report on Food Hubs

March 22, 2012

Last week, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan released a new USDA report, Moving Food Along the Value Chain: Innovations in Regional Food Distribution, that highlights the work of eight food distributors across the country.  These food distributors, better known as food hubs, facilitate connections between producers and consumers at a local and regional level.  Last April, NSAC reported on a USDA nationwide analysis of food hubs that focused on the economic opportunities food hubs provide.

The March 16 press release notes that “the study details how these organizations help local and regional producers overcome bottlenecks in the food marketing system through collaborative and transparent planning and adherence to a shared set of operating principles.  By sharing lessons learned and best practices, the new study serves as a resource for producers, food processors, and marketers organizing to supply local and regional food products to commercial customers.”

The three-year study, completed by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), highlights eight distributors:  La Montanita (Albuquerque, NM), The Wedge Coop (Minneapolis, MN), Oklahoma Food Co-op (Oklahoma City, OK), New North Florida Cooperative (Marianna, FL), Community Alliance with Family Farmers (Davis, CA), Red Tomato (Boston, MA), Minnesota Food Association (Marine on St Croix, MN), and Appalachian Sustainable Development (Abingdon, VA).  For each of these food hubs, AMS addressed network organization, product branding and labeling, infrastructure management, and price negotiation in its study.  According to AMS, the following criteria influenced performance across all eight examples:

  • The amount and timing of investments made in infrastructure are vital to the success and survival of food value chains;
  • Preserving the identity of growers on product labels is critical for connecting with consumers, distinguishing the product from the competition and providing traceability;
  • Informal farmer networks can offer additional flexibility for suppliers and buyers and allow food value chains to be highly responsive to the shifting demands of specialty food markets; and
  • For-profit businesses, nonprofits, and cooperatives all have unique strengths.  By partnering with each other within food value chains they can leverage organizational competencies and reduce the risk of failure.

Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), an NSAC member group, is one of the food hubs featured in the study.  CAFF operates Growers Collaborative, a food hub that follows a nonprofit model to connect farmers to consumers.  CAFF is currently establishing a set of Growers Collaborative regional aggregators across California that purchase produce from farmers and market it to larger food distributors with the label “Buy Fresh, Buy Local,” a branding that CAFF licenses from Food Routes.  CAFF is currently the only entity in California authorized to use this label.  Farmers receive the farm gate value for their product, and institutions that want to source locally can select produce from distributors that is verified local.

The March 7 Senate Agriculture Committee’s 2012 Farm Bill hearing on Healthy Food Initiatives, Local Production, and Nutrition also included discussion of food hubs.  Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, referenced food hubs as a means of connecting communities with local, healthy food.  In addition, Mr. Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corporation in Detroit, MI, testified as a witness about Eastern Market’s food hub model, citing increases in producer income and improved access to healthy foods for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The eight food hubs profiled in the report emphasize many of the local and regional food systems initiatives detailed in USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) Compass.  NSAC reported on the KYF2 Compass earlier this month.

Categories: Local & Regional Food Systems

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