Food hubs a potential boon to local growers

May 05, 2011

Smaller farmers have new friends in food hubs, which quickly move local and regional produce to markets, often in underserved areas.

USDA is getting behind regional food hubs, which help small- and mid-sized farmers to distribute and market their locally grown foods quickly, efficiently, and with few infrastructure costs.

The Lempert Report sees this as positive news for these farmers and consumers. Food hubs look to be establishing roots as viable business models that open access to locally grown, healthy foods. More than 40% of food hubs operate in food deserts, says USDA, which just launched its Food Desert Locator.  

USDA has released its first analysis of food hubs, which it defines 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.” Two examples:

  • La Montanita Co-Op Food Market in New Mexico, a four-store operator that sells over 1,100 products bought from nearly 500 local growers and producers, at a $2.7 million annual pace.
  • Appalachian Sustainable Development in Virginia, which distributes produce grown by 53 certified organic farmers (many of them former tobacco growers), and sells through the 18-store White’s Fresh Food and 100-store Food City chains.

Preliminary research done by USDA with several partners (National Association of Produce Market Managers, the Wallace Center at Winrock International, and the Project for Public Spaces) shows the scope of food hubs today:

  • More than 100 operate in the U.S., with large clusters in the Northeast and Midwest.
  • The average food hub approaches $1 million in annual sales.
  • The typical food hub serves 40 suppliers.
  • Almost all food hubs offer fresh produce, and most offer dairy and protein products too.

Different models of food hubs exist. We urge retailers to learn which ones operate in their markets and consider aligning with them, just as White’s and Food City have done in Virginia. This approach could satisfy shoppers who want to support nearby growers by eating the healthy foods they supply.