Regional Food Hubs: the key to improved farm profitability and rural economic development?

2011 Annual Report for GNE11-021

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2011: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Todd Schmit
Cornell University

Regional Food Hubs: the key to improved farm profitability and rural economic development?


The fall was spent analyzing the results from the local food distributor surveys, conducted during the summer of 2011. Based on those results, the researcher built an initial input-output model to measure the economic impact of a direct stimulus to the local food distribution industry (i.e. by the government or a private foundation). Additionally, the researcher and Cornell Small Farm Program local foods/local markets work team presented their preliminary findings at three conferences across the U.S. Though the researcher and work team planned a conference for local food distributors in November, it had to be rescheduled due to low attendance. We are confident that the event (now planned for March 4th) will draw more distributors, as it is planned in conjunction with an annual NYC Watershed Ag Council event in Liberty, NY.

Objectives/Performance Targets

1. Develop an inter-disciplinary methodology that combines secondary data analytic approaches with primary data collection throughout New York to evaluate regional food hubs that can be replicated across the United States;

This fall, the graduate student researcher built an economic model based on the surveys conducted during the summer of 2011 to analyze the economic impact of regional food hubs, and particularly looking at the impact on farms if food hubs were provided a direct stimulus by an outside source such as the government or a private foundation. Based on the data collected from the relatively small sample (n=19), the researcher found that a direct stimulus to food hubs does not generate a significant farm-level impact. The researcher is now working on obtaining the data from the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets of all food distribution companies with a farm product dealers license. The goal is to rework the model based on a much larger sample. Also, at this point the model does not include forward-linkages (i.e. sales to customers), and thus modifying the model to include these impacts will be one of the next steps.

2. Build the capacity of the Cornell Small Farms Program Work Team on local foods/local markets so as to develop statewide support to increase small, commercial farmers’ profitability by expanding access to markets, including assisting in the development of an annual distribution/regional food hub conference/networking session targeted for small commercial producers, and developing replicable best practice models of viable regional food hub businesses (as appropriate);

Working with the Cornell Small Farms Program Work Team on local foods/local markets, I tried to set up the first annual Local Food Distributor conference (see attached initiation). Though we procured the requisite amount of money so as to make the conference free for distributors, and we had ample support from agency staff (including the NY Farm Viability Institute, USDA AMS, NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, NYC Watershed Agriculture Council, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and the Glynwood Center), we only had a few distributors commit to the event. Thus, we postponed the event. We are currently in the process of coordinating a distributor meeting for Sunday, March 4th in conjunction with a conference held in Liberty, NY by the NYC Watershed Agriculture Council. We are confident that this event will draw more distributors as many of them are already intending to attend the event.

3. Develop policy recommendations for local, state, and federal government in accordance with findings.

As we have not finished the study, we have not yet had the opportunity to start developing policy recommendations.


In September, I attended the IMPLAN training in Minneapolis, MN. At the training, I learned the basics of IMPLAN as well as further information about available resources should I have any questions.

The Cornell Small Farm Program local foods/local markets work team met on September 29th, 2011 to review the results from the interviews with the distributors and discuss next steps. At that meeting, the decision was made to plan a Local Food Distributor meeting for Sunday, November 6th in conjunction with the Cornell Agribusiness Strategic Marketing Conference. Jim Barham, the head of the regional food hub team for the USDA was slated to attend the Conference, so he agreed to come a day early and speak at the distributor meeting. Unfortunately, though there was a lot of excitement from the local food distributors (of all sizes and from across the State), only a few of them were able to commit to attending the event, so we ended up postponing.

With support from several Cornell University researchers, I spent much of the fall analyzing the results from the summer’s survey and building a model in IMPLAN. The researchers are currently looking more closely at my model and assumptions.

The work team and I presented our initial findings at several conferences this fall, including: the Cornell Cooperative Extension Centennial Conference (Ithaca, NY), the American Collegiate Schools of Planning Annual Conference (Salt Lake City, UT), and the Ford Foundation’s Rural Wealth Creation Conference (Washington, D.C.).

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We continue to work on outreach publications and believe that once complete, they will have a significant impact, particularly as our three presentations this fall were very well received.


Susan Christopherson

[email protected]
204 W Sibley Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072558772
Todd Schmit

[email protected]
Associate Professor
Cornell University
340H Warren Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072553015