Introduction to Food Hubs
Locally sourced food is on the rise in the United States with many consumers preferring to support their local economy rather than purchasing produce at large grocery retailers. While local food suppliers tend to have higher quality product, they typically struggle with the distribution of their product, making access to local produce difficult.
Food hubs help to solve this problem.
Food hubs act as a conduit or "the middle man" for smaller and mid-sized farmers to access different food markets, including retail, institutional, and commercial food service markets. Food hubs provide access to to larger markets through distribution and marking services at an affordable price. Both services open up new markets and major opportunities for local suppliers.
Food hubs not only support the local economy, they can also support the local community. More than one third of all food hubs in the states today are declared as a nonprofit and serve a higher social mission, including higher wages for farmers and providing fresh foods to under-served populations. Community feeding operations are interested in providing fresh produce for their clients for more nutritious meals. Member organizations in our network are finding new and innovative ways to source produce at a low cost, including the food hub model and food recovery efforts.
Food hubs have their own set of challenges. Food hubs typically run at a break-even level before depreciation, often with little to no room for fluctuations in spending. This is more prevalent within nonprofit food hubs if they rely heavily on grants or community contributions for a large part of their funding. Food hubs struggle to compete in a large scale food industry environment, costs of distribution are lower on a larger scale and major food companies are more likely to receive government subsidies that supplement their operational costs.
Despite some setbacks, food hubs can serve as a wonderful advocate for the local economy and connect consumers with ethically sourced fresh produce. Food hubs are one step among many to create a more inclusive food system to benefit nonprofits and enterprise alike. To get your own food hub started or to learn more, The Healthy Food Access Portal, started in 2009 by PolicyLink, The Food Trust, and Reinvestment Fund, has a list of key strategies that address everything from financing to site development. Our members aim to serve healthy, nutritious food to their students and have trainees learn knife skills with fresh ingredients during the program. Everyone wins with a healthy local economy and food system!
“Food Value Chains and Food Hubs: Supporting Local Producers Through Collaborative Planning, Aggregation, and Distribution,” USDA
“Are Farmers Market Sales Peaking? That Might Be Good For Farmers,” NPR
“Counting Values: Food Hub Financial Benchmarking Study,” NGFN Food Hub Collaboration
“From Farm to Table,” Rowan Jacobsen
“Healthy Food Access Portal” PolicyLink, The Food Trust, Reinvestment Fund