Here at USDA we are looking for ways that we can help build and strengthen regional and local food systems. As we talk to farmers, producers, consumers, processors, retailers, buyers and everyone else involved in regional food system development, we hear more and more about small and mid-sized farmers struggling to get their products to market quickly and efficiently. And more and more we hear that these same producers need access to things like trucks, warehouses, processing space, and storage. These things require capital investment, infrastructure maintenance and dedicated oversight – things that small and mid-sized producers often can’t afford or manage themselves.
One answer to help regional producers may be a ”food hub.”
Our working definition of a food hub is “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.” By actively coordinating these activities along the value chain, food hubs are providing wider access to institutional and retail markets for small to mid-sized producers, and increasing access of fresh healthy food for consumers, including underserved areas and food deserts.
One example is La Montanita in New Mexico, which buys from over 700 local farmers and producers, and warehouses and processes over 1,100 local products that are sold through the La Montanita retail co-op locations and other retail markets across the state.
There’s also Appalachian Sustainable Development, which offers technical support, training and marketing support to over 50 local farmers, and aggregates their products for regional distribution across rural Appalachia.
And the Detroit Eastern Market is a food hub, offering warehouse, storage, processing, marketing and retail functions to hundreds of Michigan producers, allowing them to participate in the state’s biggest market.
In order to better understand the impacts of these projects and how we can further support local and regional food hubs, we have created a dedicated working group composed of representatives from the Agricultural Marketing Service, Rural Development, Economic Research Service, Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and Food Nutrition Service.
We’re also working closely with other groups, such as The Wallace Center at Winrock International, the Project for Public Spaces, and the National Association of Produce Market Managers, to understand the critical role food hubs can play in regional food systems.
As interest, market demand, and production of local and regional food continue to grow, so will the need for organized infrastructure systems like processing, aggregation, distribution and marketing. Food hubs are one way to get ahead of the curve.