Regional food hubs have become all the rage in the past year among local foods advocates. These startups promote local food system development by offering aggregation and distribution services to farmers, food producers and vendors around the country.
The glowing media coverage they often receive for this and their increasing numbers suggest food hubs are an idea whose time has come. But can they survive in the long term?
A Growing Movement
Looking at the numbers, it’s clear the movement’s definitely developed momentum over the past few years.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, their ranks grew 65 percent between 2009 and 2013, jumping from around 140 different establishments to over 230. The agency now identifies approximately 300 operating throughout the United States.
That sweet corn at your nearest supermarket chain probably was not grown locally. In all likelihood, neither were the green beans, lettuce or apples.
Husk is trying to change that. With headquarters in Greenfield, Indiana the startup is aiming to make sure locally-produced food at supermarkets and not just farmers’ markets.
Founded in 2013 by Nick Carter, Adam Moody and Chris Baggott, Husk is is creating a local foods system, complete with farming partners, a processing and distribution facility, and store. Only local farmers grow produce for Husk, and Husk products only sell at local and regional markets.
A college in central Pennsylvania wants to buy food from local farmers to feed its students, but how? A big box retail store and a hospital in Louisiana would like to sell and serve local foods, but again, how? Rather than having to resort to purchasing food through a large wholesaler, which often means food being shipped from thousands of miles away, local and regional food hubs enable local growers and buyers to connect, keeping dollars in the community and improving health and nutrition. The following are 10 food hubs across the United States that are making it easier to serve up local food.
Local Food Marketplace provides a software platform for food hubs that allows them to reach customers, aggregate production and compete with traditional distribution.
“We help food hubs all the way from the planning process and working with their producers to figuring out what their availability will be on a weekly basis,” says Amy McCann, who co-founded the business in 2009. “We also help with writing sales sheets, creating invoices for customers and managing the distribution to the food hub’s customers.“
McCann says her personal experience working in the food hub environment helps her offer more than just tech support to her customers.
This article is part of a Seedstock series profiling women who are leading change in sustainable agriculture and local food. Read more here.
In 2003, Natasha Lantz became a member and started volunteering at the Marquette Food Co-op, a store that sells locally-produced food in Marquette, Michigan, in the state’s Upper Peninsula. Now, she serves as the organization’s outreach director.
As a volunteer, Lantz found herself unloading trucks, pricing merchandise and stocking shelves. She enjoyed her work, but noticed that not much outreach to the community was taking place. She asked management if she could start a bulletin board—this was approved. She later successfully ran for a position on the Co-op’s board of directors, and kept volunteering.
Agriculture has been a way of life in New Mexico for centuries. The communal irrigation canals, or acequias, and the lands they water have been passed down by family farmers generation after generation.
Today, New Mexico is returning to its agricultural roots as a way to revitalize its cities.
Espanola, New Mexico, a town of just under 10,000 people located 22 miles from Santa Fe, is leading the way with a regional food hub initiative to connect farmers with consumers while bringing new life to the city’s downtown.
Local food growers, consumers and entrepreneurs in the Lansing, Michigan area have had good cause to celebrate as of late. Last September, Allen Neighborhood Center, a community development agency that doubles as Mid-Michigan’s nonprofit food hub, opened the doors of a warehouse they’d spent months renovating.
Located directly behind their community center on the city’s northeast side, that building, the Allen Market Place, now serves as an incubator kitchen and indoor market. It’s also linked to an online market called the Exchange, that connects regional farmers and food producers with commercial and institutional buyers in a 75-mile range of Lansing.
When it comes to food, Robert Egger is all in favor of making the most of what you’ve got.
Twenty-five years ago, Egger founded D.C. Central Kitchen, a “community kitchen” that uses salvaged food to make meals for agencies servicing low-income and homeless individuals and provides culinary training to unemployed men and women.
Egger stepped down as its president last year to start a new project called L.A. Kitchen, based in his hometown of Los Angeles. Similar in concept to the D.C. nonprofit, the new kitchen places a greater emphasis on participating in the local food economy. Egger sees the effort as “taking charity up a notch” and establishing “a self-sustaining model” that supports local farmers, helps local residents and provides opportunities for men and women who may face barriers to employment.