I have covered food hubs in several blog posts over the past year. The State of Michigan has been one of the early adopters of food hubs, but as they become more mainstream and prevalent, they are spreading across North America. The idea of a food hub is to create a central distribution point for the sale of farm-grown produce, including fruits, vegetables, meat, and other items which is produced by local farmers in a region. The food is then sold to grocery stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals, added-value manufacturing facilities, or distributed further afield to other states or provinces. Basically, it acts a central location dedicated to selling local product.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food hub as a:
“centrally located business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution and/or marketing of locally regional procured food products”
One of the biggest benefits of a food hub is it takes the distribution concerns off of the producers. Many farmers have difficulty reaching certain distribution networks and are unable to always sell their crops. A food hub acts as an sophisticated aggregation point that has the distribution networks in place. This relieves producers of having to concentrate efforts on distribution, rather focusing more of their efforts on production.
One of the more interesting ones I have been following over the past year is the Food Hub recently established in Worcester, Massachusetts. A city of approximately 185,000 residents has set-up a regional food hub that has three core areas:
- Aggregation, distribution, and marketing services
- Workforce development culinary training program
- Commercial kitchen incubators
The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts has been tracking the establishment of the Worcester Regional Food Hub, which is a great case study for other municipalities to understand the implementation required for a food hub. For a stable base of buyers, many of the “first customers” have been institutional uses such as schools and government facilities. It will be interesting to track and see how Year 1 (2017) goes ahead for the food hub.
What I can say regarding this specific example is that the Regional Environmental Council and Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce have really put in the effort to do this right. Rather than setup a food hub right away, two years of planning and trials were conducted to ensure that the concept was correct, the location was optimal, the funding was in place, and the right people were ready to run the operation.