Food Hubs

New terms sneak up on me all the time. One day I am laughing at the audacity of someone putting two or three unrelated words together, and the next thing I know those words are a phrase on everyone’s lips. 

“Food Hub” was like that. I believe I first heard the term less than two years ago, and now it is popping up with regularity. There is already a National Food Hub Collaboration, which includes the Wallace Center, the National Good Food Network, the National Association of Produce Market Managers, Project for Public Spaces, and the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. USDA-AMS even has a food hub page.

Their working definition of a food hub is “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.” In layman’s terms, food hubs get local food to local markets. They take care of all those hard-to-do middleman chores between farmers and consumers.

But a food hub isn’t just another corporate entity making money off the latest food fad. In identifying over 100 food hubs in the U.S., the National Food Hub Collaboration found that most are socially driven enterprises with a strong emphasis on good prices for producers and good food for consumers. These are community based organizations – whether they are cooperatives, LLCs, nonprofit or for profit – with local ownership.

Southern SAWG will feature staff members from two food hubs – Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD) and Grasshoppers Distribution – in an educational session at our annual conference on January 20, 2012.

ASD has fostered sustainable farming in southwest Virginia and northeastern Tennessee for years. They move organic and sustainable farm products to regional markets through their Appalachian Harvest program. This non-profit is focused on developing economic opportunities for local people while preserving their natural resources and enriching their communities.

Grasshoppers provides locally grown produce, meats, cheeses and dairy from over 60 family farms in Kentucky and southern Indiana to consumers in the Louisville area. This farmer owned company uses a modified CSA model with subscription sales and weekly deliveries.

If you are interested in the food hub concept, I encourage you to attend this conference session. We’ll also provide time for an information exchange between people involved in food hubs on January 21. This will be a chance to discuss challenges, share solutions and get to know others in our region.

And if you can’t make it to our conference in Little Rock (or even if you can), check out the Food Hub Center at the National Good Food Network. They’ve hosted several webinars on food hubs, and their site lists a multitude of links to news and resources.