Final Report for ES13-116

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2013: $79,776.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Keith Richards
Southern SAWG
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Project Information

Abstract:

Southern SAWG facilitated a two-year learning network for 52 agricultural professionals, NGO assistance providers and farmers who are assisting farmers and community members in strengthening local, sustainable food distribution systems by developing regional food hubs or food value chains. Participants engaged in several learning activities, including two networking meetings and six educational workshops at SSAWG conferences, and two webinars and three facilitated discussions on conference calls. Southern SAWG also provided useful resources, notices of events, and other key information through email communication. Recordings of the webinars and conference presentations were posted online and promoted to all.

Project Objectives:

The overall goal of this project is to equip Cooperative Extension agents, USDA field personnel, NGO technical assistance providers, and other agricultural professionals and educators in the southern region with the tools and resources to provide effective technical support to farmers and community members who are developing or strengthening local, sustainable food distribution systems.

Objective 1: At least 50 agricultural professionals will participate in a learning network with associated training on local, sustainable food distribution systems offered through this project. Lessons to be taught will include, but not be limited to: key factors that contribute to the success or failure of regional food hub and food value chain activities, how to finance stages of development and reduce risk, options for legal business structures, and methods for assessing community assets that could be components of a regional food hub.

Objective 2: Participants will gain improved understanding of the keys to effective development of local, sustainable food distribution systems, and how their work can be of assistance to this development.

Objective 3: Participants will gain access to tools and resources that can be readily used by agricultural professionals or other community members to support the development of local, sustainable food distribution systems. They will include user-friendly electronic materials available online or on CD that they will share with others or refer to when called upon to provide needed technical information.

Objective 4: Participants will gain access to professional relationships with other agricultural professionals across the region working on similar issues who they can contact for specific information needs. They will draw on these contacts when called upon to provide needed technical assistance.

Objective 5: Participants will gain improved capacity to deliver technical assistance to producers and community members seeking to develop local, sustainable food distribution systems. This capacity will be gained by utilizing the information presented in the training, through the newly accessed tools and resources, and through continued networking with other learning network members. 
 

Introduction:

Through the growth of the local food movement, consumer demand is increasing for healthy, locally grown products. Some farmers are feeding this demand by selling through direct markets. Yet the potential exists to reach far more customers through channels where consumers already purchase or consume most of their food. Markets such as independent grocers, school and college lunch programs, and hospitals are looking for more local products to satisfy their customers’ requests. Independently, a few farmers have entered these markets by managing their own marketing and distribution systems. But there needs to be coordinated systems of aggregation, marketing, distribution, and promotion beyond the farm level for the majority of small and mid-scale producers to tap into these markets.

Across the country, regional food value chains or food hubs have emerged to serve as a bridge between local growers and markets. According to the Regional Food Hub Resource Guide (Barham, et al., USDA, 2012), “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.”

“Food hubs work on the supply side with producers in areas such as sustainable production practices, production planning, season extension, packaging, branding, certification, and food safety—all of which is done to enable these producers to access wholesale customers…

Simultaneously, food hubs also work on the demand side by coordinating efforts with other distributors, processors, wholesale buyers, and even consumers to ensure they can meet the growing market demand for source-identified, sustainably produced, locally or regionally grown products.”

“They work closely with their producers to build their capacity to meet wholesale buyer requirements. They ensure a good price for their growers’ products by using product differentiation strategies to command a premium in the marketplace. They ultimately see their producers as valued partners rather than interchangeable suppliers.” (Barham, et al., USDA, 2012.)

Regional food hubs are quickly becoming a key strategy for addressing economic, environmental and social issues in the development of regional sustainable agriculture systems. They are improving producer profitability by enhancing access to diversified commercial markets. They are increasing the demand for sustainably grown products, and are reducing energy use and waste in the distribution process. And many food hubs make a concerted effort to expand their market reach into underserved areas where there is lack of healthy, fresh food.

We know of approximately 90 initiatives in the 13 southern states that are conducting food hub activities; some functioning well, some not. Additionally, many other farmers and community stakeholders are interested in the concept and are exploring the possibilities. While the number of food hubs is growing rapidly, the need for assistance has also grown. Many leaders of these emerging entities have expressed a need for assistance from Southern SAWG and other assistance providers in our region.  

There are a few organizations providing assistance throughout the region, most notably the Wallace Center and New North Florida Cooperative. In addition, several organizations are providing assistance in selected states, such as the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (NC), Appalachian Sustainable Development (VA/TN), and the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives. Coop Extension and university staff members in some states are also providing assistance. For instance, the Community Viability Program within the Virginia Coop Extension provides assistance on community food systems and enterprises, including food hub development. Julia Gaskin and colleagues at the University of Georgia recently completed a survey of food hubs and an assessment of farmers needs (results will be available in late fall 2012). Staff from Alcorn State University and Tuskegee University are partnering with the Wallace Center in a project to increase sustainable production in the Black Belt and develop collaborative aggregation, distribution and marketing of selected products.

A number of agriculture professionals recognize the need to be more proficient in this area of work. According to a survey of over 1200 Food System Development practitioners across the U.S. and Canada, 89.2% responded that they desired more opportunities for professional development training. When asked what food system development topics they needed training in, 43.4% said “marketing and value chain development.” This was the second most cited response. When asked what types of professional development opportunities they desired, their top ranked choices (with response rate) included:
60.2% – networking with professionals within my specific technical field
56.1% – conference of agricultural and food system development practitioners
54.8% – e-newsletters featuring case studies, best practices and training opportunities
52.7% – regional communities of practice networks
47.7% – live online interactive learning
(North American Food System Development Practitioner Survey prepared by the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, Hilchey, et. al., 2012.)

At this stage of food hub interest and development, there needs to be much more sharing of information between projects and across the region. Developing and operating a food hub requires a complex combination of skills in business, marketing, production, communications, personal relations and community development. By bringing together assistance providers from both government agencies and NGOs with practitioners from successful food hubs, the learning activities proposed for this project can accelerate the spread of information based on research and experience, and build greater expertise.

Although no SARE funded projects have directly addressed food hubs, this project will build on the work done by ASAP in their project “Building Capacity: Farm to School” (ES10-103). They conducted a needs assessment survey of coop extension agents in three states, convened a conference with workshops based on specific needs cited, and provided resources on best practices and lessons learned, case studies and market requirements for F2S projects. We will also build on the work done in Iowa funded by two SARE projects: “Learning how to use communities of practice to address sustainable agriculture issues” (ENC08-101) and “Community capacity building to strengthen the links within the Iowa local foods value chain” (ENC11-121).

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Eric Bendfelt
  • Julia Gaskin
  • Kristen Markley
  • Elizabeth Myles
  • Devona Sherwood
  • Kathlyn Terry
  • Andrew Williams

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

At the beginning of the project, we organized our advisory team and asked them for input on avenues for recruitment of learning network members and on our initial assessment of those members. Our advisors were:

  1. Eric Bendfeldt, Extension Specialist, Community Viability, Virginia Cooperative Extension.
  2. Julia Gaskin, Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of Georgia.
  3. Elizabeth Myles, Marketing Specialist, Alcorn State University, Mississippi Small Farm Development Center.
  4. Devona Sherwood, Wallace Center at Winrock International.
  5. Kathlyn Terry, Appalachian Sustainable Development, Appalachian Harvest food hub.
  6. Andrew Williams, TUCCA and the Deep South Food Alliance.

We conducted extensive outreach and recruitment for the learning group throughout the summer of 2013, especially to those who work with limited resource and underserved populations of producers. Through an application process, we enlisted 47 members in the learning group – including our advisors – from 12 of our 13 Southern states. We added five more members to the group during the first year. Nine of the members were active in running a food hub, thirteen were involved in efforts to start a food hub, and the others were providing assistance in one form or another to food hubs or regional food value chains. Sixteen identified themselves as farmers, twenty with nonprofit organizations, ten with government agencies, and twelve as private consultants.

We also found out a bit about the types of food hubs or food value chains they were working with. In terms of farmer demographics, 89% of the groups had Caucasian farmers participating, 63% had African American farmers, 34% had Hispanic farmers, 31% had Asian American farmers, and 18% had Native American farmers participating.

Most of the groups they were working with were fairly new. Over one third (36%) were less than one year old, and more than 60% were less than five years old. As to be expected, over half of the groups they were working with had gross annual sales of less than $500,000, although a few were working with groups that gross over one million. They were working with groups that had several types of business structures, including nonprofits, cooperatives, private corporations, and publicly held corporations. 73% of the groups they were working with planned to provide food to low-income or disadvantaged populations.

In our rapid assessment survey of the learning network members (as part of their application), we also found out what topics they most wanted to learn about. Here were the most requested topics (with the percentage of network members who cited this as a need):
Creating a network of food hubs in the Southern region – 76%
Comparison of distribution models – 74%
Farmer recruitment and farmer relations – 66%
Production planning – 61%
Financing options – 58%
Developing feasibility studies/business plans – 55%
Food safety strategies – 55%
Management – 52%
Selling to local schools and other institutions – 47%

Our project team then developed a series of networking and educational activities, including two learning network meetings, two webinars, and educational sessions at the Southern SAWG conferences in 2014 and 2015. We originally planned for three webinars, but added three conference calls instead of a third webinar. We encouraged learning network members to access other existing food hub resources and then had discussions to create more participant interaction.

In December 2013, we sent out an e-newsletter to our learning group, providing them with a complete list of the learning network members along with contact information and introductions on what each are doing regarding food hubs. The newsletter highlighted resources from the National Good Food Network (NGFN) Food Hub Center http://ngfn.org/resources/food-hubs that address specific needs identified in our initial assessment of members.

On January 16-18, 2014 we conducted activities for the learning group at the Southern SAWG conference in Mobile, AL. A fairly informal in-person meeting was held to provide introductions and mixer activities to let learning group members get to know each other a bit more.

Three educational sessions specifically addressed their food hub issues on January 18:

  • Building Farmer Capacity and Regional Supply Chain Infrastructure to Reach Institutional and Wholesale Buyers – For the past two years, several partners in Alabama and Mississippi addressed the barriers that farmers face in meeting institutional and wholesale market demand. The Increasing Farmer Success project facilitated local market linkages with a variety of retail and institutional buyers and built farmer capacity through direct technical assistance, group training, and by making direct investments into supply chain infrastructure and activit Partners in this work will share successes along with lessons for others. Lee McBride, Food Bank of North Alabama (AL); Glyen Holmes, New North Florida Cooperative (FL); Andrew Williams, Deep South Food Alliance (AL); Miles Robinson, Tuskegee University (AL); Devona Sherwood, Wallace Center (VA).
  • Food Hub Lessons 1: Getting Started – Are you considering aggregating and distributing farm products, or have recently started a regional food hub or food value chain? Staff members from three food hubs in our region will present examples of how they made decisions on topics such as business structure, management, capital expenditures, distribution and markets, and farmer recruitment. This will be a facilitated conversation to help you learn about some of the differing approaches for reaching your goals. Alyssa Denny & Bill Pastellak, Hollygrove Market & Farm (LA); Kathlyn Terry, Appalachian Sustainable Development (VA); Bob Waldrop, Oklahoma Food Cooperative (OK); Eric Bendfeldt, Virginia Cooperative Extension (VA).
  • Food Hub Lessons 2: Operating For Self-Sufficiency and Growth – Whether you are just starting a regional food hub or food value chain, have been operating one for some time, or are assisting others, it helps to hear lessons from the field. Staff members from two organizations will discuss issues specific to more advanced businesses such as production planning, distribution, financial operations, income generation, and more. Anthony Flaccavento, who started a successful food hub, will facilitate the conversation and add insight. Laurie & Will Moore, Moore Farms and Friends (AL/GA); Alan Moore, Local Food Hub (VA); and Anthony Flaccavento, SCALE (VA).

Many other conference sessions were conducted with the needs of the learning network in mind, and addressed their work and the work of farmers selling through food hubs, including:

  • Managing Your Farm as a Business
  • Adding Value-Added Products to Your Farm
  • Building Relationships with School Food Staff for Successful Farm to School Programs
  • Putting the “Farmer” in Farm-to-School and Cooperative Marketing Ventures
  • Capitalizing Your Organization for Sustainability and Growth

Travel scholarships to the conference were provided for all of the learning network members who asked for assistance – 20 total.

In the second year of this project, we conducted two webinars and three conference calls for facilitated discussions. The webinars and two of the follow-up conference calls included:

So You Think a Food Hub is Right for You webinar on May 14, 2014 and follow-up conference call on May 28.
Description: So you want to start a regional food hub or food value chain business.  Or you are assisting someone who is exploring the possibility.  This webinar will help you walk through some of the critical first steps including:

  • How can you assess your local food system and make an informed decision about an entity or service that can fill a needed gap? 
  • How can you figure out how to position yourself in the local food system and what roles or services to take on? 
  • Once you have an idea of your position, what are the options for business models that might suit your role or service well?
  • How can you create strong, mutually beneficial relationships with local farmers? 
  • How can you communicate truthfully about the benefits and expectations of marketing through this business?

Presenters: Tina Prevatte, Co-CEO, Firsthand Foods (NC); Kathlyn Terry, Executive Director, Appalachian Sustainable Development (VA); and Eric Bendfelt, Community Viability Specialist, Virginia Cooperation Extension Service (VA).

Developing Food Hubs with Limited Resource Producers and in Low Income Communities webinar on August 18, 2014 and follow-up conference call on August 20.
Description: Andrew Williams and Glyen Holmes will discuss how to be resourceful and creative in developing food hubs with limited resource producers and in low income communities. Using examples from their work in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, they will address the following issues:

    • Creating awareness (i.e. the interest in producing and purchasing local foods)
    • Funding strategies
    • Finding and developing infrastructure
    • Marketing strategies
    • Sustaining efforts after the start-up phase

Presenters: Glyen Holmes, New North Florida Cooperative (FL); and Andrew Williams, Deep South Food Alliance (AL).

In addition, we conducted a facilitated conference call on November 5, 2014 that built on the content of a previous NGFN webinar called the Business of Food Hubs. (This was identified as a high need among learning group members, but we didn’t want to duplicate what had been done earlier by this NGFN webinar.)

Description: Want to learn more about conducting a feasibility study and carrying out business planning for a food hub venture? We recommend that you watch an excellent webinar produced by the National Good Food Network (NGFN), and then join us for a one hour dialogue with Kathy Nyquist and Saloni Doshi of New Venture Advisors. Both are highly skilled business advisors who work directly with food hubs.

First, watch this webinar at your own convenience: “Business of Food Hubs: Planning Successful Regional Produce Aggregation Facilities” <http://www.ngfn.org/resources/ngfn-cluster-calls/the-business-of-food-hubs> During the “Business of Food Hubs” webinar, Kathy Nyquist walks the audience through simple steps for creating a feasibility study for a food hub venture. She uses examples from two feasibility studies, one in Illinois and one in Virginia. It is useful information for both new and existing food hubs, and it will provide excellent background information for the November 5th conference call.

Then, join our conference call. This call will provide learning network members an opportunity to dialogue with Kathy and her colleague Saloni Doshi about feasibility studies and business planning.

On January 16-17, 2015 we conducted activities for learning group members at the Southern SAWG conference in Mobile, AL. We built on the activities provided at our 2014 conference in year one. We provided travel scholarships for 17 learning group members; a total of 26 learning group members attended the conference. Besides attending numerous educational sessions that had information appropriate for food hubs, they also networked extensively.

Three educational sessions at the conference specifically addressed their food hub issues:

Financing Food Hubs (and Other Healthy Food Enterprises)
Description: Need capital? Where do you turn? There are many sources of financing for food hubs – including grants, loans, investors and other creative financing options. In this session, we’ll discuss some of the options available, and key considerations in choosing the right option based on the type of business and stage of development. The discussion will include financing available for start-ups vs. more mature businesses, and nonprofits vs. for profits. Malini Ram Moraghan, Wholesome Wave (IL); Dafina Williams, Opportunity Finance Network (PA); and Jim Barham, USDA Rural Development (DC).

Food Hub Lessons: Early Decisions
Description: Are you starting a regional food hub or assisting others in getting one off the ground? Hear examples of key decisions that some food hubs in our region made as they started out. We’ll cover topics such as business structure, financing, management, distribution and markets, and farmer recruitment. This will be a facilitated conversation to help you learn about some of the differing approaches and an opportunity to share lessons with others. Sara Clow, GrowFood Carolina (SC); Leslie Hossfeld, Feast Down East/Southeastern NC Food Systems (NC); and Jim Barham, USDA Rural Development (DC).

Food Hub Lessons: Processing and Marketing Meat
Description: Marksbury Farm Market is a small-scale, privately owned slaughterhouse and packaging facility, as well as a retail market. They sell grass-fed beef, pastured pork, poultry and lamb sourced from over 40 local farmers. Currently, Marksbury distributes their products (with their own small fleet) to restaurants, grocery stores, and institutional markets. In this session, they will discuss the unique issues facing food processing firms that market livestock products, and provide lessons for others. There will be plenty of time for questions and group discussion. John-Mark Hack and Preston Correll, Marksbury Farm Market (KY).

An audio recording along with powerpoint slides of all three 2015 conference sessions were posted to the Southern SAWG website at: http://www.ssawg.org/webinars-presentations/   They were promoted through SSAWG e-newsletters and social media.

We also held a facilitated discussion session at the 2015 SSAWG conference, called:

Building a Food Hub Support Network. Description: Learn who in our region is working on food hub development and food hub assistance. Share contacts and resources, and discuss how we can work collaboratively in the future. Facilitated by Andrew Williams, TUCCA (AL) and Robin Robbins, Appalachian Harvest (VA).

Many other conference sessions were conducted with the needs of the learning network in mind, and addressed their work and the work of farmers selling through food hubs, including:

  • How Farm to School Programs Can Add Value to Your Farm Business

  • Growing Farm Profits by Managing for Profits

  • Making your Market Farm Work for You
  • Pricing and Profits for Livestock Farmers

During year two of the project, we facilitated the development of relationships by putting members in leadership positions and by encouraging conversations. Twenty-six different learning network members and other food hub leaders were given the chance to either lead or facilitate presentations through our project’s workshop sessions, networking meetings, webinars and conference calls. At the end of each conference workshop and webinar, we facilitated question and answer sessions, encouraging group interaction. And our conference calls were moderated as open discussions on topics covered in the webinars.

We also communicated regularly with learning network members through informative emails sent throughout year two. In these emails we provided descriptions and links to useful resources, notices of events, and other key information that followed up on the webinars, conference calls, and conference workshops.

We connected our network members to other resources for food hub learning by highlighting key developments through our email communication and in workshops. Resources included the USDA online food hub directory, a food hub benchmarking study led by the Wallace Center and Michigan State University, the new food hub management program at the University of Vermont, and the NFGN Food Hub Collaboration Discussion Group.

With the flood of food hub resources becoming available, we realized that many ag professionals who don’t have a specific food hub focus may have a hard time quickly finding what a client might need. So, as a final piece of this project, we put together a small “starter kit” of annotated resources for ag professionals and others who are first exploring the concept of a food hub. This was posted to the Southern SAWG website at: http://www.ssawg.org/s/Starter-Kit-for-food-hub-assistance.pdf We promoted this through emails and other social media.

Outreach and Publications

Webinars

So You Think A Food Hub Is Right For You: How to help food hub organizers and prospective farmers make informed decisions about food hub options  https://vimeo.com/95879676

Developing Food Hubs with Limited Resource Producers in Low Income Communities  https://vimeo.com/104740285

Recorded conference call discussions

Feasibility Studies and Business Planning For Food Hubs 
http://www.ssawg.org/webinars-presentations/

Audio Presentations with Slide Shows

Food Hub Lessons: Processing and Marketing Meat 
http://www.ssawg.org/webinars-presentations/

Food Hub Lessons: Early Decisions 
http://www.ssawg.org/webinars-presentations/

Financing Food Hubs and Other Healthy Food Enterprises 
http://www.ssawg.org/webinars-presentations/

Resource Primer

Food Hub Starter Kit 
http://www.ssawg.org/s/Starter-Kit-for-food-hub-assistance.pdf

 

Outcomes and impacts:

Attendance and evaluation results from sessions at 2014 Southern SAWG conference:

Food Hub Networking Meeting

35 people attended.

Building Farmer Capacity and Regional Supply Chain Infrastructure to Reach Institutional and Wholesale Buyers

65 people attended.

     When asked if they learned something useful, 86% replied yes absolutely and 14% replied yes, moderately. When asked if they expect to use information learned in this session within the next year, 68% replied yes absolutely and 3% replied yes, possibly. When asked if they would attend another session by these presenters, 78% replied yes absolutely and 22% replied yes, possibly.

     Comments from the session showed that attendees were highly engaged and were able to identify more specific information that they would like to obtain, including GAP and food safety certification, building consumer demand for local food, and more on business and financial structures.

Food Hub Lessons 1: Getting Started

68 people attended.

     When asked if they learned something useful, 80% replied yes absolutely and 20% replied yes, moderately. When asked if they expect to use information learned in this session within the next year, 59% replied yes absolutely and 35% replied yes, possibly. When asked if they would attend another session by these presenters, 69% replied yes absolutely and 27% replied yes, possibly.

Food Hub Lessons 2: Operating For Self-Sufficiency and Growth

45 people attended.

     When asked if they learned something useful, 86% replied yes absolutely and 14% replied yes, moderately. When asked if they expect to use information learned in this session within the next year, 77% replied yes absolutely and 20% replied yes, possibly. When asked if they would attend another session by these presenters, 84% replied yes absolutely and 16% replied yes, possibly.

 

Attendance on webinars in 2014:

 

So You Think a Food Hub is Right for You webinar on May 14, 2014 and follow-up conference call on May 28.

27 attended (including 3 others from outside the learning group). Another 62 people have accessed the archived webinar posted on the SSAWG website.

Developing Food Hubs with Limited Resource Producers and in Low Income Communities webinar on August 18, 2014 and follow-up conference call on August 20.

25 attended (including 3 others from outside the learning group). Another 24 people have accessed the archived webinar posted on the SSAWG website.

 

Attendance on facilitated conference call on November 5, 2014 to discuss Business of Food Hubs.

14 attended (including 4 others from outside the learning group). More than 40 others accessed the archived audio recording posted on the SSAWG website.

 

Attendance and evaluation results from sessions at 2015 Southern SAWG conference:

Financing Food Hubs (and Other Healthy Food Enterprises)

55 attended (included others from outside the learning group)

Post-session survey results:

When asked if they learned something useful, 67% replied yes absolutely and 33% replied yes moderately. When asked if they expect to use information learned in this session within the next year, 49% replied yes absolutely and 44% replied yes possibly. When asked if they would attend another session by these presenters, 67% replied yes absolutely and 26% replied yes possibly.

An additional 390 people have accessed the archived presentation posted on the SSAWG website.

Food Hub Lessons: Early Decisions

45 attended (included others from outside the learning group)

Post-session survey results:

When asked if they learned something useful, 91% replied yes absolutely and 9% replied yes moderately. When asked if they expect to use information learned in this session within the next year, 76% replied yes absolutely and 21% replied yes possibly. When asked if they would attend another session by these presenters, 76% replied yes absolutely and 24% replied yes possibly.

An additional 344 people have accessed the archived presentation posted on the SSAWG website.

Food Hub Lessons: Processing and Marketing Meat

25 attended (included others from outside the learning group)

Post-session survey results:

When asked if they learned something useful, 75% replied yes absolutely and 25% replied yes moderately. When asked if they expect to use information learned in this session within the next year, 31% replied yes absolutely and 56% replied yes possibly. When asked if they would attend another session by these presenters, 69% replied yes absolutely and 25% replied yes possibly.

Building a Food Hub Support Network meeting

42 attended (included many others from outside the learning group)

Feedback: Most people want to continue a dialogue among those working on food hubs in the South. Some are interested in creating a learning journey that would include cross-training or sharing of resources and knowledge between operating food hubs. Many others are just getting started and would like to visit hubs or hear more stories with lessons learned.

All of the feedback we’ve received, both formally through surveys and informally through conversations with learning group members, indicate that they are gaining improved understanding of the keys to effective development of local, sustainable food distribution systems, and they are gaining improved capacity to deliver technical assistance to producers and community members seeking to develop regional food hubs. They are more aware of specific tools and resources that are available to assist producers and community members in developing food hubs. And for those who participated in learning group activities, they have increased their relationships with others who have experience and expertise that they can call on.

Perhaps the most important outcome of this project so far, is that most learning group participants are learning just how difficult and complex it is to develop a successful food hub. After each learning activity, when asked what more they needed, the list of information needs became longer and more specific. Here is a sample of some of the needs expressed in the last few months of the project:

  • How to create a hub without major infrastructure.
  • How to fund initial research /feasibility studies.
  • Examples of how much capital was required for successful hubs to get started.
  • More info on mature food hub financing.
  • Info about software for on-line ordering systems.
  • More on GAP for distributors and warehouses.
  • Food safety training.
  • Help in marketing and sales to chefs.
  • How to initiate and develop relationships with buyer representatives.
  • Details on figuring demand projections and crop planning processes.
  • Financial modeling and business management.
  • Balance between cash flow, grants and liquidity.
  • More real life success stories.
  • Tours of food hubs in our region.

This shows a more sophisticated understanding of the subject and should lead to better assistance provided. With growing interest in food hubs and many more people exploring the possibilities, we need a larger number of assistance providers and committed community members who can help navigate this landscape. We believe that this project has laid the groundwork for better support among several key people in the South.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Most of the effects from this project on farms and in communities will take place 1-5 years down the road when increased food hub expertise begins to translate into more successful hubs. But some indicators started to appear by the end of the project, including the following:

  • More people from our region joined the on-going list serv and trainings offered by the National Good food Network (NGFN) Food Hub Center.      
  • A feasibility study for an organic food hub in Texas was completed by the Southwest office of NCAT and food hub learning group member Robert Maggiani. This study is available to the public at: https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/local_food/food_hubs.html
  • Learning group members from Appalachian Sustainable Development (VA) provided some training for famers from AL and MS who they met through the learning group.
  • A food hub in Atlanta called the Local Source established a partnership with The Common Market in Philadelphia through our learning group activities. They have rebranded as the Common Market Georgia.
  • Many other food hubs and value chain projects took steps toward success during the course of this project, using information from the project network.

 

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

This project has made the following impacts:

  1. Increased understanding among interested farmers and ag professionals across the region about keys steps in food hub development and what makes food hubs successful.
  2. Better understanding among those farmers and ag professionals about how to access information and resources on specific aspects of food hub development.  
  3. Increased relationships between people working on these issues in isolated communities.

We believe this will lead to less likelihood that new initiatives will start in isolation and fail, and greater likelihood that successful models will be analyzed and shared, leading to other successful food hubs providing more aggregation, marketing and distribution infrastructure in our region for marketing of sustainable ag products. If that happens, more farmers will more easily be able to access larger markets, leading to growth of production.

Future Recommendations

Resources and support for food hubs exploded during the 3 years from when we originally wrote the proposal for this project and when the project ended. The NGFN Food Hub Center received major funding to produce studies, reports, and monthly webinars. Their website http://ngfn.org/resources/food-hubs became the go-to site for all things about food hubs – a repository of studies, reports, resources and data. Through the Food Hub Collaboration, several organizations and institutions increased the amount of research, outreach, and technical assistance aimed at food hub development nationwide. Partners include The Wallace Center at Winrock International, USDA, National Good Food Network, Wholesome Wave, Farm Credit Council, Michigan State University, National Farm to School Network, and School Food FOCUS. Additionally, the University of Vermont initiated the first Food Hub Management course.

So there is less of a need for Southern organizations to develop resources or create virtual learning opportunities aimed only at our region. However one major need was expressed by learning group members. How can the food hub model serve low resource farmers and low income communities? If this can be done, then there needs to be research showing how and demonstrations of models that work.

Learning group members also identified two major opportunities they would like to see developed:

  1. Learning Tours of food hubs so people can see what facilities look like and hear from a variety of staff and farmers. These could have a two-way learning component – visitors learning from the host food hub, and knowledgeable visitors (including other food hub operators) providing feedback to the host on critical problems or issues.
  2. The development of formal collaborations between food hubs in the south in order to share learning and make better use of resources. Examples include everything from joint training on GAP certification to cross marketing of products.

 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.