26 Jun How can we feed a nation without big agriculture?
“Some food hubs are building infrastructure to store food year-round which creates an actual response to the question: ‘How can we feed a nation without big agriculture?’” noted Kate Petcosky, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project’s Food Access Coordinator in Lowell, MA. “At this point, we are aggregating from 30 different refugee or immigrant beginning farmers, and moving about $16 0,000 worth of produce. Our farmers can’t be at farmers markets every day, so we are taking over the direct consumer relationships.”
According to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, “a regional food hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail and institutional demand.” In many parts of the country, there are wide gaps in local distribution and processing infrastructure, making it difficult for regional growers, such as those farming with New Entry, to access markets. Food hubs fill a market niche that the current food distribution system is not adequately addressing, failing to connect small-scale producers to wholesale market channels. Additionally, food hubs can build the capacity of local producers and engage buyers and consumers to rethink their purchasing options. In this way, hubs are becoming the building blocks for viable local and regional food systems. According to the National Good Food Network, “While many regional food hubs are local food distributors, they are much more than this. Food hubs are examples of innovative, value chain-based business models that strive to achieve triple bottom line (economic, social, and environmental) impacts within their communities. They do this by offering a suite of services to producers, buyers, and the wider community.”
In 2013 a National Food Hub Survey was conducted by the Wallace Center at Winrock International and MSU Center for Regional Food Studies. The survey resulted in several notable findings from the 107 food hubs that were interviewed. Conclusions indicated that food hubs across the country are increasing to broaden the distribution infrastructure for local food. From the survey, “62% of food hubs began operations within the last five years, 31% of food hubs had $1,000,000 or more in annual revenue and the majority of food hubs were supporting their businesses with little or no grant assistance.” The participating food hubs were asked to identify their greatest operational challenges which included, “managing growth, balancing supply and demand, access to capital, finding appropriate technology to manage operations, negotiating prices with producers and/or customers and finding reliable seasonal and/or part time staff.” Additionally, 96% of food hubs indicated that demand for their hubs’ products and services was growing.