What can farmers and ranchers do if they’re interested in selling locally but don’t have the resources to run their own trucks, processing plants or marketing strategies? What can institutional buyers, –like schools, hospital and retailers — do to offer more local food to their customers? A regional food hub is one possible answer.
Regional food hubs – businesses or organizations that connect farmers and buyers by offering a suite of production, distribution, and marketing services – can play a critical role in developing stronger supply chains for local food. They can also help address the infrastructure challenges that many small and midsize producers face when trying to break into local markets, and help aggregate products from smaller local and regional producers. Food hubs can also support food access, regional economic development and job creation.
Last week, at the National Good Food Network (NGFN) Food Hub Collaboration Spring 2012 Conference in Chicago (sponsored by USDA and the Wallace Center at Winrock International), USDA released our new Regional Food Hub Resource Guide, a collection of information, resources and background on everything needed to develop or participate in a regional food hub. The guide presents a series of key questions about the current state of food hub development and examples from operating food hubs. It also outlines the role that food hubs can play in regional food systems; their innovative business models; and their economic contributions to local communities. It describes funding opportunities and other resources, best practices, and additional strategies for anyone interested in developing regional food hubs.
Here at USDA, the Agricultural Marketing Service has taken the lead in food hub research. Last year, AMS created a food hub portal, which includes the latest research, news and information about food hub development across the country. Working with partners, AMS identified more than 170 food hubs operating across the country. I met some of them at the Chicago conference, like Johnice Cross of GROWN Locally in Decorah, Iowa, which has been coordinating with producers in Northeast Iowa to distribute a wide variety of their products to wholesale institutions, distributors and local schools, and Haile Johnston of Common Market which connects nearly 100 local producers with communities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
AMS produced the Regional Food Hub Resource Guide in partnership with the Wallace Center at Winrock International, the National Good Food Network, the National Association of Produce Market Managers and the Project for Public Spaces, as part of the National Food Hub Collaboration. Our ongoing work together will include developing a national food hub community of practice, continuing current research on food hubs business model and understanding the role food hubs are playing in communities across the country,
You can learn more about food hubs and other local food infrastructure in the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, a narrative full of case studies and multi-media tools. I encourage you to look through the KYF Compass and its accompanying map to see where USDA is supporting food hubs in your region.