A major part of the work of the Wallace Center's National Good Food Network, the Food Hub Collaboration is working to ensure the success of existing and emerging food hubs in the United States. The Collaboration builds the capacity of food hubs by creating opportunities for connection, conducting outreach and research, providing technical assistance, and initiating multistakeholder partnerships. By supporting food hubs—crucial players in the value chain—we are accelerating the growth of regional food systems, making healthy and affordable food available to more communities while creating viable markets of scale for regionally-focused producers.
Members of the Collaboration include the Wallace Center, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the organizations and individuals that make up the National Good Food Network, Farm Credit Council, School Food Focus, Wholesome Wave Foundation, Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University, and National Farm to School Network.
In order to get Good Food to where most people shop and eat (grocery stores, institutions, restaurants) businesses must aggregate products for volume, ensure that quality and packing standards are met, and provide storage and subsequent distribution to points of sale. While there is a large system for accomplishing these tasks already in existence, there is also a growing need for improvements and alternatives that offer more opportunity for regionally focused farms, support the use of sustainable production practices, expand regional food economies, and increase access to healthy and affordable food for those that currently lack such access.
The Food Hub Collaboration focuses on an emerging and evolving model for healthy food aggregation and distribution, known as a food hub. 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. By offering these and a number of producer and community services, food hubs are poised to bridge the gap in infrastructure necessary for more regionalized food environments.
Food hubs are focused on regionally produced product that can be fresher (with a trend toward less-processed products) and more environmentally sustainable (as travel time from farm to fork can be reduced); that preserves regional agricultural land and talent; and that provides the stronger connection to food and place that consumers increasingly demand.
Food hubs are unusual in that they take a values-based approach to their supplier as well as their buyers. This move from a commodity mentality allows new farmers to enter the wholesale marketplace, allows those farmers to take risks to grow their operations, and has a local economic multiplier effect, keeping the wealth in the community. They also provide small- to mid-sized producers greater access to institutional and retail markets, create new jobs along the supply chain, and—crucially—increase access to fresh healthy food for consumers through more mainstream food system outlets such as retail stores, corner stores, schools, and hospitals. Food hubs have a particularly important role to play in increasing access for underserved communities.
The Food Hub Collaboration fosters the creation and expansion of food hubs that provide markets of scale for local farmers, which, in turn, bring healthy, sustainable, and regionally-produced food to communities across the country including currently underserved communities. To broaden the impact of these efforts, the Collaboration also focuses on advancing the body of knowledge around food hub development nationwide.
Strengthening the ability of hubs, researchers, agencies, TA providers, and funders to benefit from a learning network, the Food Hub Collaboration has established a food hub Community of Practice. Launched at the April 2012 National Food Hub Conference, the Community of Practice brings together food hub managers and the broad range of stakeholders that support their work—including nonprofits, food hub software developers, a diversity of investors and funders, and community and economic development specialists, among others.
Investment in nine study hubs from around the country—representing diverse business models and geographic areas—provides selected hubs technical assistance in financial planning, business development, and monitoring and evaluation, and connects them with new peers, resources, and knowledge. In turn, study hubs offer the opportunity to capture cutting edge learning about the successes and challenges of the food hub model, and share it with those interested in learning from, building on, or investing in the work. Visit the National Good Food Network’s Food Hub Center to learn more about the selected study hubs, and their efforts to increase food access and improve health outcomes.
Bringing together a set of skilled technical assistance providers, the Food Hub Collaboration has connected both selected study hubs and a wider network of hubs nationwide to tailored technical assistance—using needs assessments to match practitioners with providers. In time, the Wallace Center, in partnership with the NGFN Food Hub Collaboration, will, connect practitioners with consultants from the Center’s growing consultant database in a more extensive manner. In the meantime, the online Food Hub Center (www.foodhub.info) and USDA’s Food Hub Portal (www.ams.usda.gov/foodhubs) are in-depth sources for a variety of food hub resources, including a database of food hubs, learning tools, Wallace Center food hub webinars, and ongoing news and updates.
The Wallace Center supports this community, and the broader community of those interested in starting or strengthening hubs, with a range of research and knowledge sharing resources. The Center disseminates a popular Community of Practice newsletter; hosts ongoing food hub-focused webinars; provides tailored resource-sharing and assistance to nascent regional food hub networks; presents new learning at conferences and workshops nationwide; facilitates opportunities for funders to learn about regional food system infrastructure; and engages in ongoing research and data collection to deepen the body of knowledge around food hubs.
Growing out of the Food Hub Collaboration’s 2011 nationwide hub survey, the Regional Food Hub Resource Guide, provides one of the first in-depth reports on the size, scale, practices, benefits and challenges of the food hub model. In partnership with the Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University we have released a biennial survey report that provides ongoing insight into the state of food hub operations, and opportunities for sector growth, investment, and social impact. 2013, 2015 and 2017.
Building food hubs’ capacity for strategic development and monitoring of financial progress and social impact has been a key part of the Collaboration’s investment. Improved methods for tracking and acting on data supports better planning, business performance and community benefits— for hubs, investors, and the communities that rely on them. For example, a recent benchmarking study provides data on food hub financial and operational characteristics, helping to understand how successful hubs have achieved their mission and goals through financial and business metrics.
A continuing series of food hub-focused webinars, on topics ranging from starting a food hub, to financing a hub’s operations, to production planning with suppliers and more, have provided over 3000 food hub managers, community development specialists, buyers, funders and others the opportunity to connect with the latest knowledge. In addition to presentations from experts, the webinars offer opportunities for Q&A, and access to resources and tools developed by some of the most successful and innovative hubs in the country.
The spring 2012 NGFN Food Hub Conference was rated very high in value to participating food hubs, technical assistance providers and other stakeholders. In 2013 we focused on working directly with regional gatherings to support regional efforts and regional food hub networks.
The second NGFN Food Hub Conference took place in 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina, and conferences in 2016 (Atlanta, GA) and 2018 (Albuquerque, NM) were extremely well-attended, and highly rated. Post-conference surveys indicate that the conferences produce large numbers of follow-up contacts for most attendees.
Project website: www.foodhub.info
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