Food hubs are financially viable forces for good in their communities providing locally grown to institutions, wholesale buyers, grocery stores, restaurants and other retail outlets. They also offer much needed infrastructure, aggregation, and marketing to enable small and mid-sized farms to achieve and maintain economic sustainability.
These conclusions were among the results of the 2015 National Food Hub Survey of more than 150 food hubs across the U.S. The report was released on May 12 by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. Seedstock recently spoke with the center’s director, Rich Pirog, to learn more about the report’s findings and the future of food hubs.
Susie Sutphin started with five farms and five chefs, delivering produce in a refrigerated van she found on Craigslist. Today from her base in Alpine Meadows, CA, the Tahoe Food Hub connects 35 growers with nearly 60 buyers, all within a 100-mile radius of the town.
Through the Sierra Agroecology Center, another branch of the the food hub, the organization teaches community members how to grow their own food with techniques adapted to the local mountain climate at the Truckee Community Farm. They have bees, chickens and the Growing Dome, a geodesic greenhouse with raised beds and small aquaponics system.
ProduceRun co-founder and president William Pattison is no stranger to farming. His family has worked the land for four generations.
“ProduceRun started on our own family farm,” Pattison says. “We wanted a better way to be found, sell and distribute our farm products to the public. I feel that our technology can make a real difference for farmers, making it easier for them to do business, and creating easier access for buyers.”
Three out of four food hubs in the United States are breaking even or turning a profit. One out of three food hub operators are women, and one out of five are people of color. These statistics and more were revealed in a recently-released National Food Hub Survey.
The 2015 survey, conducted by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and the Wallace Center at Winrock International, came on the heels of a similar survey in 2013. More than 150 food hubs were included in the study, which was designed to identify food hub economic growth patterns.
“The survey shows some positive trends,” says John Fisk, director of the Wallace Center. “Food hubs are emerging and are growing revenue, and continue to be opportunities for small farmers.”
Fisk, along with Jeff Farbman of Winrock International and Rich Pirog and Jill Hardy, both of Michigan State University, spoke about the survey via a webinar conducted by the National Good Food Network.
Muskegon County, Michigan is one step closer to getting a food hub after completing a feasibility study conducted in partnership by Morse Marketing Connections and Cherry Capital Foods, an established food hub located in Traverse City.
In a study conducted in 2015 by County Health Rankings, Muskegon ranked 65 out of 82 for Health Behaviors, which includes factors such as adult obesity and food environment index (economic status and access to consistent sources of healthy food). That’s partly because Muskegon is a food desert.
Food hubs and farm-to-school programs are essential mechanisms in increasing access to food produced locally and sustainably. In Vermont, an effort is underway to combine the power of both.
As the recipient of a USDA farm-to-school grant in 2013, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) produced a report titled “Using Food Hubs to Create Sustainable FTS (Farm-to-School) Programs.” It explores how to leverage “non-traditional resources to expand farm-to-School market relationships between Vermont’s schools and producers.”
The publication was released in March 2015, and now, more than nine months later, VAAFM local foods administrator Abbey Willard is pleased with its impact.
A group of Maine food producers, service workers and community members is out to change the local food system on an institutional scale.
The Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative is the first “farm and sea to institution” food service cooperative in the United States. Comprised of more than 100 owners, the group aims to transform the state’s institutional food service programs—like those in schools, universities and hospitals—by providing a higher percentage of local foods and employees to its partners.
Amy McCann is the director and co-founder of the food hub technology firm Local Food Marketplace. The company provides food hubs with systems management and technology. Their goal is to help food hub clients maximize efficiency and deliver a …