Strengthening Small-Scale Sustainable Farming and Local Food Systems by Accelerating Food Hub Development is a Wallace Center project funded by the Wal-Mart Foundation whose purpose is to support more sustainable agriculture, build local and regional food systems, and expand opportunities for small farmers by strengthening the capacity of food hubs to be successful.
The Wallace Center is building on the work of its National Good Food Network (NGFN) initiative to support food hub development and build capacity among small and mid-size farms to access regional markets, with an emphasis on targeting minority and female farmers. The program’s specific objectives include: build food hubs’ capacity, build small farm capacity, and expand the capacity of NGFN and its Food Hub Collaboration.
Consumer demand for sustainably grown local and regional agricultural products offers unprecedented opportunity not only for greater financial viability of small and mid-size independent family farms, but also for stronger environmental performance in the farm sector and increased rural economic development. To take full advantage of the opportunity, farmers need to improve their direct markets and expand into wholesale and/or intermediated markets that allow access to larger buyers and more consumers. They also need to build their skill and capacity for supplying these larger markets. Increasingly, small farmers work with a growing number of enterprises that employ cooperative aggregation, distribution, and marketing strategies—often referred to as food hubs. Food hubs make it possible for small and mid-size farms to gain entry into larger-volume markets that have been difficult or impossible for producers to access on their own. Not only do food hubs provide a conduit to additional markets, they build farm business’ skill and capacity for being productive and viable. While the growing interest and action around food hubs is promising, there are challenges.
Strengthening Small-Scale Sustainable Farming and Local Food Systems by Accelerating Food Hub Development is a multi-faceted array of programs created by the Wallace Center to increase the success of small and mid-scale sustainable farm businesses throughout the United States, with an emphasis on targeting minority and female farmers and strengthening and accelerating local food systems. The Wallace Center is achieving the program’s objectives through extensive capacity-building, technical assistance (TA), and re-granting programs to food hubs and small to mid-scale farm businesses. Re-granting investments are coupled with capacity building and TA to ensure successful investments, with TA and capacity building extending beyond the re-grantee partners to impact a wider national target audience.
In 2014, the Wallace Center launched four re-granting efforts with a focus on building local and regional food systems via food hubs that buy from and support small-scale sustainable farmers, including women, diverse ethnicities, and limited-resource farmers. These programs complete a suite that will support the development of stronger, more robust regional food systems nationwide, building capacity at both the producer and hub level for immediate and continuing impact.
Food Hub Development Grant Program
The goal of the Food Hub Development Grant program is to build food hubs’ capacity to overcome current challenges and position them for long-term success. Food Hub Development grantees source from a diversity of producers representing Native American and African American communities, Hmong immigrant populations, Somalian refugees, and other minority farmer groups. Women farmers are also well represented and the grantee portfolio represents a diversity of sustainable production methods. The 11 Food Hub Development grantees are utilizing Walmart Foundation funding to pursue a diverse range of project activities aimed at strengthening and accelerating the development of their organizations and their local food system including marketing campaigns, facility renovations, and investment in distribution. The grantees are a geographically diverse combination of for profit and non-profit entities whose wide variation in ‘style’ shows the many different faces of what is considered to be a food hub.
GroupGAP Pilot Grant Program
With numerous small-scale producers supplying food hubs, many are finding it complex and financially burdensome to pursue third-party on-farm food safety certifications like the USDA Good Agricultural Practices certification (USDA GAP). In partnership with the Wallace Center, the USDA is piloting a cooperative approach for farms of all sizes to demonstrate compliance with industry-accepted food safety standards. In GroupGAP, a food hub, support organization, or central business entity collaborates with producers to establish site-specific best practices for complying with a food safety standard. In the first year of the grant program, all of our partner organizations made great strides towards facilitating USDA GAP and/or Harmonized GAP certification for their participating producers. The GroupGAP program is building the capacity of small and mid-size producers, including those accessing food deserts, public school systems, and historically-disadvantaged communities, by providing training opportunities in on-farm food safety.
Farm Assistance Grant Program
The intention of the Farm Assistance grants are to provide assistance and strengthen small to mid-scale farm businesses that supply food hubs to be stronger supply partners. The Request for Applicants (RFA) presented applicants two different options. Option One allowed food hubs to propose their own grant project designed to positively impact the hub and their farm partners and to advance local and regional food systems. Option Two allowed food hubs to apply for enrollment in our newly-developed National Good Food Network Food Safety Education Program. Food hubs are uniquely well-positioned to be a locus for accurate and effective food safety education due to their investment in their farmer supply partners. Wallace developed a framework for leveraging hubs to increase farmer food safety knowledge and compliance. Our strategy is resource efficient and builds local capacity to maximum current and long term impact.
Food Hub Community of Practice List-Serv
In December 2010, the Wallace Center began to collect information on food hub development in order to cultivate a community of practitioners (CoP). Enrollment in the CoP grew from 20 to 170 members in the first year, then up to 307 the year following. In 2013, Wallace Center launched an interactive message board to facilitate resource sharing and problem solving within the Food Hub Community of Practice, and enrollment spiked 90% to 586. Since January 2014, enrollment has grown an additional 37% and today this privately-moderated group hosts over 800 practitioners all over the country.
Early Stage Hub Development Workshops
Throughout 2015, Wallace Center is offering a capacity-building workshop series across the country to meet the high demand for knowledge, support the development of the food hub field, and ensure that appropriately informed development decisions can be made. Wallace has contracted with the food systems experts at Matson Consulting, SCALE, and Common Market to develop a robust curriculum combining traditional business development savvy with hands-on food hub management experience.
Each day-long workshop consists of modules, each with group activities, discussions, and/ or brainstorming sessions. Topics include “Getting the Bottom Line to Meet the Mission,” “Transportation and Logistics,” “Food Safety and Regulation,” and more.
The materials have been developed to meet the particular needs of new food hub practitioners who are themselves launching startup businesses. The curriculum will help hub operators, food enterprise entrepreneurs, and community stakeholders better understand the core competencies necessary to establish and operate viable food hubs and increase their social impact.
Technical Assistance & Capacity Building
Technical assistance (TA) to help food hubs address their challenges is essential if hubs are to continue to expand the opportunities they offer to small farms. Wallace’s position in the vanguard of the development of the food hub industry has allowed us to measure and track the areas of greatest need for our partner organizations and subsequently deliver a capacity building and technical assistance program that offers extensive and effective training. Direct technical assistance is given to all grantees, and extended to targeted non-grantee food hubs also, with a focus on addressing hub’s challenges and building their operational and financial capacity so that hubs can continue to expand the opportunities they offer to small and mid-scale sustainable farms. TA includes a myriad of peer-to-peer learning opportunities, including group and individual training, bi-monthly food hub grantee partners TA meetings, an online Food Hub Community of Practice, site visits, conferences, webinars, and research and data dissemination.
Information Technology Solutions
In an effort to address the need for assistance in finding appropriate information technology for food hubs, Wallace designed a three-part workshop series with three goals: 1) help food hubs in knowing how to make the right technology/software decisions for their business; 2) allow hubs a chance to get familiar with what technology offerings are available; and 3) allow technology providers to hear what their potential customers need in order to help them prioritize development roadmaps.
Business Acumen for Women in Meat Processing
In November, Wallace sent seven women working in meat processing to attend a hands-on training seminar provided by NC Choices in Chapel Hill, NC, and provided all 30 female attendees with an excellent training opportunity by providing support to retain a top lead trainer, James Beard Award nominee butcher Kari Underly. The “Women in Meat Business” seminar provided business operations training geared towards small meat processors, including yield determination, cut sheet strategies, and marketing advice for reaching wholesale and retail markets.
Distribution Logistics Technical Assistance
Wallace Center is working with UPS, a national and international leader in fleet logistics and operational efficiency, to explore potential relationships between UPS and the national food hub community of practice.
Food Hub Community of Practice List-Serv and Cadre of TA Providers
In December 2010, the Wallace Center began to collect information on food hub development in order to cultivate a community of practitioners. In 2013, Wallace Center launched an interactive message board to facilitate resource sharing and problem solving within the Food Hub Community of Practice, and enrollment spiked 90% to 586. Since January 2014, enrollment has grown an additional 37% and today this privately-moderated group hosts over 800 practitioners all over the country (see Attachment 08, Food Hub Community of Practice Growth).
Site visits provide a number of opportunities for our partner organizations to gain valuable technical assistance and strong peer-to-peer learning and sharing. In addition to introducing food hub operators to industry peers, these visits create the opportunity for practitioners to network with each other, share best practices, and receive training and technical assistance together exponentially expanding the learning together.