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Food hubs across the nation-new study examines leading models and best practices
Food hubs often encompass all or several of the missing link(s) necessary to better faciliate the process of bringing local foods from farm to fork. I like to think of them as the physical places that are home to every "sticky point" in the food economy or the critical components of the food system (production, aggregation, processing, distribution, consumption, waste). More formally speaking, they are most often defined (according to Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and Wallace Center at Winrock International) as businesses or organizations that actively manage the aggregation, distribution and marketing of source-identified food products. The hubs often serve to provide much-needed, size-appropriate infrastructure and marketing capacity for local food produced by small and midsized producers. In other words, size considerations of each component within the food system determine their ability to relate to one another to get products to market. For example, many larger distributors and processors in our regional food systems may not find it a good match to link up with small and mid-sized farmers which keeps some farmers at more modest size ranges out of the larger marketplace. For more information on the dsitribution component of Ohio's local food economy, we suggest reading this summary of a report done by OSU faculty in 2009.
In several areas of Ohio, food hubs like Cleveland Crops' (almost completed) aggregation and processing facility in Cleveland, AceNet's Shared-use Manufacturing and Commercial Kitchen incubation center in Athens, Local Roots in Wooster and a new Food District project proposed to be completed in Columbus, have all been devised to secure the most appropriate matches between local farmers and their distribution, marketing and processing needs. Each site also varies in their relation to the general public (with local roots serving more as a market currently).
With all this activity springing up across the country, MSU and Wallace Center partnered to consider the value being added to local food economies nationally. The 2013 National Food Hub Survey was conducted to collect this information from a broad sample of food hubs. Some key findings were the for-profit cooperative models of food hubs that had been in operation at least 10 years had the highest rates of success.