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Members of Food Hub Learning Network Share Expertise on Recent Webinar

“Focus on the areas where you can do a good job,” advised Kathlyn Terry.  And build collaborations with others.

“For partnerships to work, they must be mutually beneficial,” according to Tina Prevatte.  “They have to be win-win to be sustainable.”

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Collaborations and mutually beneficial partnerships were common themes discussed by all three presenters on the recent Southern SAWG webinar titled: “So You Think a Food Hub is Right for You: How to help food hub organizers and prospective farmers make informed decisions about food hub options.”  Designed for the Southern SAWG Food Hub Learning Network, the webinar covered some of the key questions facing community members who are exploring the possibility of starting a food hub or regional food value chain business.  

Tina Prevatte of Firsthand Foods, Kathlyn Terry of Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD), and Eric Bendfelt with Virginia Cooperative Extension provided experienced observations on some of the critical first steps of development by addressing these questions:

  •    How can you assess your local food system and make an informed decision about an   
       entity or service that can fill a needed gap? 
  •    How can you figure out how to position yourself in the local food system and what roles
        or services to take on? 
  •     Once you have an idea of your position, what are the options for business models that
        might suit your role or service well?
  •     How can you create strong, mutually beneficial relationships with local farmers? 
  •     How can you communicate truthfully about the benefits and expectations of marketing
        through this business?

Research is critical before you jump into a business.  Eric Bendfelt said, “Research informs the strategy for the services you will provide, and identifies your niche in the market.”

Webinar participants were advised to assess the local landscape to determine what services are most needed to support the local food system.  Getting to know your existing infrastructure will prevent you from recreating something that is already there and will shed light on areas where you can collaborate and partner with existing services.  As Kathlyn Terry stated, “Owning and operating infrastructure (particularly trucks) is costly, risky, and to be avoided if at all possible!”

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Appalachian Harvest, the food hub program under ASD, sells and then transports conventional and organic produce to distribution centers.  First Hand Foods partners with existing slaughterhouses and existing trucking companies, and shares warehouse space with another food hub.

“The most important thing in maintaining good relationships with farmers is paying them well and paying them often,” according to Tina Prevatte.  In the final section of the webinar, she explained several methods used by Firsthand Foods to strengthen their relationships with producers.

This 70-minute webinar is now available for all to view on the Webinars section of the Resources page of the Southern SAWG website.

For further information about the Southern SAWG Food Hub Learning Network, contact: Keith Richards, Program Director, (479) 587-0888, keith@ssawg.org.  This project is funded with support from the Southern SARE program.