Food hubs are a crucial, but often invisible, part of the local food system. They help small farms grow by offering a combination of production, distribution, and marketing services. There are now 236 food hubs in the U.S., with more popping up all the time. Some are physical spaces, some virtual online spaces, but all are concerned with connecting the dots between producers and consumers of food in local and regional food systems. Food hubs can be thought of as helpful middlemen that connect producers (farmers and ranchers) with institutional buyers (restaurants, hospitals, schools, etc) and end consumers. They help farmers gain access to larger markets so they can focus more on farming and less on marketing, distribution, etc.
According to the USDA’s Regional Food Hub Resource Guide, a food hub is a “business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of course-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.”
As demand for locally-sourced foods continues to rise, many smaller farming and ranching operations find it difficult to make the jump from selling at roadside stands and farmers markets to selling larger quantities to grocery stores, restaurants, and other institutions. According to the USDA, “food hubs make it possible for producers to gain entry into new and additional markets that would be difficult or impossible to access on their own.”
Food hubs benefit farmers by connecting them with additional (often larger) markets, and providing services like marketing, accounting, sales and education. Food hubs can offer a single drop-off point for multiple farmers that also serves as a single pick-up point for distributors and customers. Sometimes they provide storage or liability insurance. Every food hub is a little different.
Food hubs benefit consumers and the general public by creating jobs (on average, each food hub creates 13 jobs) and increasing access to fresh healthy foods. Nearly 40% of food hubs focus on increasing access to fresh foods in food deserts and other under-served areas. For consumers who already feel they have good access to local foods, a food hub can make the process much more convenient. For example, instead of driving to the farmers market every Sunday rain or shine, then making a special trip to your favorite sweet corn stand, you might be able to order all of your favorite items from different farms online, all to be picked up Thursday night after work at a single location. In this way, “virtual” or online food hubs perform many of the same services as other food hubs that are tied to a physical location. Food Hub, run by Ecotrust is a good example of a virtual food hub.
Food hubs play an important role in supporting local food systems and food availability. They promote entrepreneurship, create local jobs, and fight food insecurity – topics that are central to Sustainable America’s mission. Our goal is to increase U.S. food availability by 50% by 2035. As local food continues to become more popular, food hubs and local farms should continue to grow, and so should U.S. food availability.