Food hubs help small producers organize to get their wares into commercial settings, such as school cafeterias.
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The food that fills our plates often comes from far away. Unripe produce is picked and packed in boxes to ripen on the road and eventually end up as part of a uniform supermarket display. Even if you have the means, locating locally grown goods in a grocery store can be tough, and not everyone has access to local produce or can attend a farmers market to find it. Further, small-scale farmers often don’t have the level of support they need to bring their wares to nearby customers through commercial means, such as retail and food service.
Food hubs bridge this gap by meeting the needs of both farmers and grocers. These hubs coordinate the collection, distribution, and marketing of food products grown by regional producers, helping them get their yields from field to shelf. That logistical legwork provides the consistency and volume that grocers need to be able to satisfactorily serve their customers, and it gets more fresh food into cafeterias, stores, and schools — where most people shop and eat — in underserved communities and food deserts. Food hubs can thus become a crucial piece of a food-supply chain, enabling farmers to scale up, and supplying consumers with a wider range of regional options – all of which supports local economies and reduces the costs and carbon emissions associated with shipping.
According to the 2017 National Food Hub Survey conducted by The Wallace Center and Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, food hubs focus on the “triple bottom line,” prioritizing social and environmental benefits in addition to financial gain. The survey also states that hubs often rely on grant funding, and many face growing pains, such as rising labor costs and balancing supply and demand. But despite those challenges, at least 360 active food hubs exist in the United States, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), their survival rates are high, with an aggregate success rate of 88 percent since 2005. Perhaps this resiliency is partially due to these support systems having a support system of their own — in 2012, the Food Hub Collaboration was created to increase the capacity of current and budding food hubs by offering developmental and technical support, and by connecting them with peers and resources. Its website hosts a wide variety of resources on food hubs, including a directory, papers and presentations, funding sources, success stories, a consultant database, and webinars. It also conducts research and collects data to increase the body of knowledge around food hubs. The collaboration is made up of various farm and food groups, including the Wallace Center, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, National Good Food Network, Farm Credit Council, School Food Focus, Wholesome Wave, Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University, and National Farm to School Network. Together, their efforts deepen the infrastructure needed for regional food systems to grow and flourish.
You can learn more by visiting the National Good Food Network site.