What’s a Food Hub?
The USDA defines a hub as a “centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.” http://www.ams.usda.gov
So how does that help farmers?
•More income: For small to mid-sized farmers, hubs offer an economic way to create value-added products such as processed apple sauce and tomato sauce, and speciality and organic products. It creates consistent income from the sale of reliable supplies of locally- produced foods. Franklin County Agriculture Development Corp. in western Massachusetts was one of the first regional hubs to partner with school systems selling local frozen vegetables year round. www.fccdc.org
•Training: Hubs can double as training sites where farmers can learn about new technology, food processing, marketing strategies, and business management practices.
•Promotes Individual Farms: Hubs build education and awareness in the community about supporting local farms by creating a visual presence.
•Promotes buying local: A central location for processing and an established drop-off point and pick-up point makes it convenient to buy local more often.
•Boosts the Economy: Hubs create jobs and promote tourism by branding the town or municipality as the regional “go-to place” for local agricultural products. Read “The Town That Food Saved,” a book that chronicles how the town of Hardwick, VT transformed itself by capitalizing on its agriculture. Hartford’s Regional Market, which is being renovated and expanded, is a self-sustaining a 32-acre state-owned and operated facility that produces meat, milk, cheese and dry goods and employs 500 people with 68 farmers in a year-round market.
•Holistic benefits: A community can get much more from a food hub than food and employment. Beside providing superior nutrition, a food hub It can be a place for the community to coalesce. A place of education. A place where families can learn about where their food comes from. A place where families can community compost and garden.
Can We Support a Food Hub: Determining Factors
•Location, Location, Location: Regional hubs market to a larger metropolitan area as well as small communities. For example, the Hartford hub services the Hartford region and beyond, and located near I-84 and I-91.
•Got Product?: Determine how many regional farmers would contribute or
benefit from a hub. Have clear sense of the consistent volume of products they produce. Is there enough to support a year-round hub?
•Accessibility: Is the site easy for regional farmers, distributors and customers to reach?
•Sites: What structures are already available with kitchen and freezing facilities? A food hub doesn’t have to be large, but it needs adequate parking for drop off; a loading dock; and other considerations. What will planning and zoning allow?
•Partner, Partner Partner: Establishing a hub often requires partnering with several organizations including economic development and conservation commissions, and other non-profit agencies whose missions will benefit from the involvement. The East Haddam Center for Community Agriculture is a 12-acre site on conserved land that is evolving into a multi-use community resource center. For more: centerforcommunityagriculture.com/#!visit_us/cl4l
•Build it and they will come: Or, revitalize an existing structure into a hub. Or, determine whether the region or town has available land it is looking to conserve as agriculture.CLICK, a non-profit in Willimantic, solicits state and local funding in renovating a 1,000-square-foot building into a sustainable food system.
•Show Me the Money: Farming is growing by leaps and bounds in the CT, and there are various grant opportunities to keep the momentum. Grants are available to municipalities seeking to improve farmers markets, which can be a viable piece of a food hub. Towns often have financial incentives for projects that stimulate local economy. http://www.ct.gov/doag
•Seek Anchor Businesses: Many regional hub gain financial support through tenants by renting warehouse or processing space. Franklin County’s hub has a local cheese and pickle producer as tenants.
•It Takes a Village: Create synergies by identifying key leaders from various parts of the region who are passionate about local food and enlist them in a collaborative effort. For state input contact: growctfarms.com