Food hubs are local aggregation, processing, and distribution resources for small growers and purchasers. Food
hubs combine yields from many small farms to create larger quantities of products to sell to retailers and
institutions. This takes pressure off small farmers to continuously produce large yields, because products from
other farms can make up the difference if yields are low. Distributing
food to large purchasers with higher demands can be difficult for smaller producers, but food hubs allow
their products to reach large-volume buyers such as hospitals, grocery stores, and workplaces.
Food hubs can also act as processors. Value-added processing increases the value of the food for both the
producer and the purchaser. Freezing, cutting, peeling, washing, and packaging food are examples of value-added
processing. For example, schools can easily use pre-washed, peeled, and cut carrots, because they take less time
to prepare, and schools might offer to pay more for this processing. Additionally, bulk purchasing of processing
materials by the food hub passes savings on to the farmer and the purchaser.
Examples of Food Hub Programs
Fifth Season Cooperative is a food hub in western Wisconsin
that operates as a cooperative business. Its goals are to increase accessibility to local food and help
support the viability of smaller farms. Its service connects products from small, local farms to buyers
across the Midwest. The cooperative serves large institutions such as the Mayo Clinic Health System, Chicago
Public Schools, and Milwaukee Public Schools while also reaching institutions in rural Wisconsin, Illinois,
and Minnesota. By working with many farmers, Fifth Season Cooperative offers Midwestern institutions a wide
range of locally grown products.
Food hubs allow smaller retailers access
to local foods. Because the produce yield threshold is not as high as it is for large food processing
sites, food hubs benefit rural communities. Some large wholesale distributing companies require grocery stores
to purchase a minimum of $10,000
of groceries per week. For rural grocers, that minimum may be too high.
Food hubs can be privately or publicly owned and operate as for-profit or nonprofit entities. They require:
- Solid relationships with local farmers and purchasers
- Detailed and accurate business plans
- Adequate workspace
- Distribution vehicles
- Knowledge of and adherence to state and federal laws concerning food processing and distribution
The USDA offers grants for local food hubs, and
additional funding can be found through food system grants
and local economic development councils.
Resources to Learn More
Food Hubs: Emily Manley at TEDxUVA
Discussion about the role of food hubs and how they impact local food systems.
Author(s): Manley, E.
Organization(s): University of Virginia, TEDx Talks
Valley Food Hubs Initiative
Research summary on the strengths and weaknesses of foods hubs in the Hudson Valley.
Author(s): Brannen, S.
Organization(s): Columbia University
Local Food Directories: Food Hub Directory
Searchable directory of local food hubs and their available products. Corresponding map shows the physical
location of each food hub.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Agriculture