Consortium to Create Food Hubs to Strengthen Local Food System in Georgia
November 8, 2011 | Deanna Krinn
The Georgia Sustainable Agriculture Consortium has a mission to bring local food back to Georgia, a state that currently relies on imports from the rest of the country for much of the food and produce that its citizens consume.
While the state’s largest economic sector is agriculture, a staggering 80 percent of the food that Georgians purchase comes from out of state, a University of Georgia expert told Georgia FACES News. The Consortium is proposing the creation of food hubs in order to shift the focus of agriculture back to local markets by making it easier for farmers to sell their produce locally and or regionally.
A recent white paper from the Consortium states that these hubs will benefit small-to-midsize farms by enabling them “to access wholesale and institutional markets that want local, sustainably produced foods.” These hubs will give farmers a means to not only sell meats and produce directly to consumers, but also a channel through which they can interact more fluidly with local businesses.
The structure of food hubs, in general, is still evolving. In general a food hub is a centralized facility designed to aggregate, store, process, distribute, and market locally or regionally produced food products. A few already exist, including several in the Southeastern United States. In Georgia, a private company called White Oak Pastures works with local cattle producers to provide grass-fed beef to wholesale customers, and is considered a food hub under the current definition. Of 20 food hubs that were operating for at least several years, half were profitable or broke even and seven others projected they would reach that point within two to three years, according to a National Good Food Network webinar cited in the Consortium’s white paper.
The hubs that the Consortium proposes to develop will also provide new jobs for Georgians to manage the aggregation, distribution and processing necessary for the food and produce moving through them. There is also the possibility for the food hubs to increase the viability of small-to-midsize farms, as well as improve rural economies by adding local jobs.
Within the next five years, the Georgia Sustainable Agriculture Consortium hopes to create at least two local or regional food hubs in Georgia. Additional Consortium goals include:
- Form a working network structure that will facilitate interaction between key institutions and stakeholders;
- Quantify barriers and infrastructure needed for local/regional food hub development;
- Conduct life cycle analysis of vegetable and grazing systems;
- Begin research on multi-species grazing systems; and
- Increase research and extension on small to mid-scale vegetable production systems
The Consortium was formed by the University of Georgia College and Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Fort Valley State University College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology, and the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Other key partners are in this effort are: Georgia Organics, Georgia Farm Bureau, Community Health Works, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association andGeorgia USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service.