A Solution for Sourcing Locally Produced Foods
Recent trends illustrate consumer preferences are gravitating towards locally raised foods, including not only fruits and vegetables, but various meat products as well. This gravitation towards locally sourced foods is welcomed by small and medium-sized farmers who make up the majority of local suppliers; however, obstacles currently exist throughout the supply chain that prohibit efficient partnerships between producer and buyer. Food Hubs are designed to mitigate these barriers that small and medium-sized farmers face, resulting in a fresher supply of foods at reasonable prices for the consumer.
A food hub, as defined by the USDA,
…is a businesses or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.” – Regional Food Hub Resource Guide (USDA, 2012)
Food hubs are designed and operated in various ways, largely depending on the consumer base they serve. Food hubs may be organized to sell directly to consumers in a storefront market setting, or they may serve as a wholesaler to local establishments. The target market of the food hub impacts how the infrastructure is developed, to what degree safety regulations must be complied with, and who marketing campaigns are directed toward and how those efforts are executed.
COMMON COMPONENTS of many food hubs include (but in no way are restricted to, or are required to consist of):
- Coordination– It is common for a hub to manage product varieties and year-round production based on an analysis of both the farmers’ capabilities and consumer demand. Additionally, the coordination of logistical operations that transport farmed goods to the hub and potentially to the buyer, is crucial to developing the most efficient food infrastructure for a local economy.
- Distribution– Controlling logistics allows the farmer to focus on his or her core competency, that is farming, leaving the remaining supply chain components to be performed by the hub.
- Aggregation– Bringing the array of goods from numerous farmers under control of one entity allows a hub to supply larger markets that individual farmers would otherwise likely have limited or no access to.
- Quality Control- One additional benefit of having the food aggregated at the hub is that when the food is prepared to be sold, the hub employees will have the opportunity to assess the quality of the food and determine whether it is up to consumer standards.
- Marketing– Efforts are directed to various parties, the farmers who will be producing the consumable goods, and the buyer—whether it be grocery and convenience stores, restaurants, institutions (hospitals, schools, prisons, etc.), or the consumers themselves.
- Education– The hub may assists farmers with learning and implementing the most current sustainable farming practices, while also teaching the public the benefits of eating locally produced foods.
Beyond the benefits realized by local farmers of having the opportunity to compete with large-scale farming operations that have previously supplied local establishments and consumers with farmed goods to date, communities as a whole experiences additional benefits when food hubs are established.
BENEFITS of Food Hubs include:
- A more efficient supply chain, resulting in reduced expenses on individual farmers and cheaper prices for consumers.
- Locally sourced food resulting in more jobs for a local economy, and therefore, more revenue for the community as a whole.
- Increased access to fresher, healthier foods to the community, while also allowing additional opportunities for providing underserved populations with access to high quality food as well.