Recently, we have heard a lot of questions about food hubs: what are they? What do they do? How is a food hub different from other operations? Hopefully, this post can shed some light on these questions.
Q: What is a food hub?
A: According to the USDA’s Regional Food Hub Resource Guide, a food hub is a “business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of course-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.”
Q: What does that mean in action?
A: It means working with producers: offering technical assistance, training, and business development strategies so they can consistently produce food and access wholesale and retail markets. Food hubs might provide liability insurance, provide processing and packaging facilities, or offer food safety, sustainable development, or business training.
It means working with institutional buyers who purchase food for institutions or retail outlets: identifying their purchasing needs and connecting them to regional producers.
It also means working with end consumers: measuring the demand for regionally produced food and increasing awareness of regional food production. Examples of efforts tailored toward consumers include community events, educational workshops, composting programs, and food bank donations.
Q: Is my local co-op a food hub? What about the farmers market?
A: While these are great ways for consumers to access regionally produced food, these do not qualify as food hubs. The activities described above are different than direct-to-consumer marketing; a food hub’s approach is to help producers access larger markets. Food hubs do so through helping producers with business development, aggregation, and distribution.
Q: What are some Impacts of food hubs?
A: Economic: By supporting and promoting regional food procurement, food hubs have the potential to increase the economic vitality of food businesses in a region. When institutions such as hospitals and schools with tremendous buying power commit to procuring regional food, they generate more revenue within their local communities. Effects of food hubs can also be seen in job creation in food-related businesses all the way from producers to consumers.
Social: Food hubs that offer business training and community programming are creating connections across many community members. Food business professionals learn from one another. Activities that build awareness of relevant issues related to food production also increase social ties. Many food hubs work for the social good, donating “seconds” to food banks and therefore increasing healthy food access.
Environmental: Whether it’s through increasing the amount of food bought within our immediate communities, teaching new methods of sustainable production, or hosting environmental awareness programming, food hubs can play a large and visible role in positive environmental change.
Stay tuned for the next blog post, where we will highlight some of our favorite food hub efforts both statewide and nationally! In the meantime, if you are interested in reading more detailed information about food hubs’ business structures, funding, and operations, take a look at the USDA’s Regional Food Hub Guide.