Direct markets are a growing way for farmers and consumers to interact, but they also support farmers by allowing them to set their own price for products. Even though farmers markets grew by over 250 percent in the past 15 years, many places called “food deserts” in the US still do not have access to fresh, healthy food from local farmers. Direct markets still only account for about .4 percent of all agricultural sales in the country.
Enter food hubs. Food hubs are a new and developing way for farmers to provide products directly to institutions, restaurants, grocers and countless other possibilities. “Skyrocketing consumer demand for local and regional food is an economic opportunity for America’s farmers and ranchers,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Food hubs facilitate access to these markets by offering critical aggregation, marketing, distribution and other services to farmers and ranchers.”
What is a food hub?
There are over 100 food hubs in the country today, each with a slightly different model. What all of these have in common is that each food hub helps farmers tap into new markets they may not have had access to in the past. The USDA created this definition for regional food hubs in the US:
“A regional food hub is a business 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.”
There are three different markets that food hubs can serve: farm-to business, farm-to-consumer or a hybrid model.
A food hub benefits farmers, consumers and the local economy of the community it serves. So, where can farmers and consumers find food hubs? There are currently food hubs all over the country. Some of Farm Aid’s resource partners are making a big impact on direct markets as food hubs that work with small and mid-size farmers.
Red Tomato is a non-profit organization located in Plainville, Massachusetts. The organization created this video, which asks the important question, “Why is it so difficult to find local produce in your grocery store?”
It is that dilemma that the organization works to solve by providing the logistical support farmers need to provide regional grocers with local produce on a wholesale scale. In doing so, Red Tomato works with farmers across the Northeast in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The organization also provides consulting to farmers looking to transition from direct markets to wholesale markets.
Appalachian Sustainable Development
Appalachian Sustainable Development is a food hub located in Abingdon, Virginia. The organization works with small and mid-size farmers to supply local farm-fresh food to over 600 supermarkets that carry the Appalachian Harvest brand. Through its Healthy Familes – Family Farms program, Appalachian Sustainable Development also provides produce to food banks in the area. The organization works with fruit and vegetable producers in the region to serve Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Ohio.
Ecotrust works as a food hub across Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. The organization is based in Portland, Oregon.
Ecotrust knows no boundaries, working with a wide array of different buyers including: bakeries, buying clubs, caterers, colleges and universities, food banks, food service contractors, grocers, healthcare facilities, hotels, motels, resorts, B&Bs, packers and processors, personal chefs, restaurants, schools and specialty retailers. The organization goes beyond working with farmers to encompass other producers such as brewers, fishermen and distilleries.
This food hub even provides an online marketplace for producers and consumers similar to a website like Craigslist.com. In doing so, sellers and buyers can interact directly with each other.
For more information on food hubs, check out the Food Hub Resource Guide created by the USDA.