Food hubs, like the Local Food Hub in Charlottesville, Va., (pictured) offer small-scale farmers an alternative or additional marketing strategy to farmers’ markets, CSAs and on-farm sales.
The USDA unveiled the “Regional Food Hub Resource Guide” at the end of April to offer support to small-scale and mid-sized farmers and producers looking for additional marketing opportunities.
“The new guide is the most comprehensive handbook on food hubs ever available,” Merrigan says. “Now farmers, buyers, researchers, consumers or anyone interested in creating a food hub in their community can tap into a single resource to find the information that they need.”
The food-hub guide provides a collection of information and resources, with background on tools needed to develop or participate in a regional food hub. It highlights the economic contributions food hubs have made to local communities and the role they play in expanding regional food systems. It also outlines funding opportunities, support resources, best practices and strategies to address challenges.
According to Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, food hubs can play a role in addressing food-system infrastructure.
Food hubs are businesses or organizations that connect producers with buyers by offering a suite of production, distribution and marketing services. It’s an innovative business model that allows farmers of all sizes to meet the growing consumer demand for fresh, local food by gaining entry into retail and larger-volume markets, such as grocery stores, hospitals and schools. The beauty of food hubs is that there is no one right way to start one: they can be large and sell exclusively to wholesale markets, sell boxes of produce and dairy directly to consumers, or function like a producer cooperative.
“By aggregating product from a number of farmers, food hubs help small-scale farmers reach larger and more diversified markets, such as retail and foodservices customers, that demand a larger volume and consistent supply that one farmer might not be able to provide on their own,” says Katie Enterline, program associate The Wallace Center at Winrock International, which partnered with the USDA on the resource guide. “Food Hubs can also provide small-scale farmers with the storage, processing and distribution infrastructure necessary to reach these larger markets.”
In 2011, USDA identified more than 170 food hubs operating around the country, and the list is periodically updated in the National Good Food Network’s Food Hub Center.
The “Regional Food Hub Resource Guide” was developed through a partnership with the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the Wallace Center at Winrock International, the National Good Food Network, the National Association of Produce Market Managers and the Project for Public Spaces, as part of the National Food Hub Collaboration.
The “Regional Food Hub Resource Guide” is part of USDA’s commitment to support local and regional food systems. These investments, including the online food hub portal, the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the National Farmers Market Directory, are highlighted in USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass. The KYF Compass is a digital guide to USDA resources related to local and regional food systems, which includes an interactive U.S. map showing local and regional food projects and an accompanying narrative documenting the results of this work through case studies, photos and video content.