Needs Assessment for the Establishment of Food Hubs Using Geographic Information Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2012: $9,902.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Cynthia Haynes
Iowa State University
Faculty Advisor:
Jennifer Bousselot
Iowa State University

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Fruits: apples, apricots, berries (blueberries), berries (brambles), berries (cranberries), berries (other), berries (strawberries), cherries, grapes, melons, pears
  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts


  • Education and Training: extension, networking
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, cooperatives, e-commerce, farm-to-institution, feasibility study, market study, risk management, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities

    Proposal abstract:

    Our research aims to study the conditions and processes involved in establishing a successful food hub. Food Hubs are entities that aggregate produce from multiple growers and broker to distributors. Expected outputs include journal publications, an extension manual, and conference abstracts. Through these outputs we hope to achieve the following five outcomes: 1) a list of conditions that favor success of food hubs, 2) a process to establish a successful food hub, 3) increased awareness of these conditions and process, 4) increased awareness of how these conditions vary spatially and how the correct location can affect success or failure, and 5) use of this information to encourage the development of new food hubs. We will begin by conducting a needs assessment study of stakeholders including growers, food hub administration and staff, distributors, retailers, and consumers in Iowa. Then we will conduct more in-depth focus groups with parties related to two local food hubs and combine these case studies with others from the literature to form conclusions. While determining each party’s’ needs we also will collect the history of how the food hub established and grew to find commonalities. We will then conduct descriptive and prescriptive modeling using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), information collected from our two case studies and the literature, and spatial information available through the U.S. Census Bureau, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the Iowa Department of Transportation to evaluate currently successful food hubs and make recommendations for developing grower groups. Evaluation will include pre and post surveys of case study participants to measure changes in attitudes, knowledge, and behavior. By developing these criteria and processes we hope to achieve three goals; 1) increase number and size of markets for local producers, 2) increase consumer access to local fresh produce through multiple supply chains, 3) provide additional job and business opportunities in rural America.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Project Outcomes
    Outcomes we will achieve through this line of research will include conditions and criteria that increase the likely hood of a food hub becoming successful, summarized processes that existing food hubs have undertaken to become successful and descriptive and prescriptive modeling of these conditions. We will increase awareness of the conditions, criteria, process, and spatial variation through publications in industry journals and presentations at conferences. We hope that this increased awareness will change grower, and food hub administrator practices to expand the service area of existing food hubs and create new food hubs in areas shown to be underserviced by spatial models.

    Evaluation Plan
    To evaluate changes that occur due to this needs assessment we will conduct pre and post surveys with our case study food hubs, other existing food hubs, and grower groups interested in creating food hubs to measure changes in attitudes, knowledge, and practices based on the development of these criteria and processes. As part of the evaluation plan we have also developed the proposed timeline below.

    2012 Initial spatial analysis, obtain IRB approval, pilot survey; conduct surveys, interviews, and tours; analyses survey results; perform spatial analysis

    2013 Create report publication, final publications and outreach

    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.