- Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, mentoring, networking, participatory research, technical assistance
- Sustainable Communities: food hubs, infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, partnerships, quality of life, sustainability measures, values-based supply chains
This project emerged from a collaboration among four Iowa food hubs and ten farmers that began in 2014. This network demonstrated the potential of shared warehousing and transportation for improving logistics efficiency and increasing the volume of regionally-produced food that can be distributed throughout the state. However, as the participants sought to add more nodes (i.e., farmers) to their network, the challenges of inadequate physical and information infrastructures became apparent. In particular, it was very difficult for them to track inventory movement among the nodes each week. This lack of information has lead to sub-optimal system-wide logistics. Additionally, the food hub managers lacked a systematic method for allocating and tracking the costs of shared physical infrastructure and warehousing services, which is necessary for successful and sustained collaboration.
During this project we researched, developed, piloted and implemented the necessary infrastructure/tools to support this supply chain and accommodate future growth. To accomplish this, we developed an automated label generated system for farms to label boxes, coolers, bags, etc to ensure that product gets delivered to the appropriate food hub. A mobile and desktop app was developed for food hub managers and farms to use to track shipments, track mistakes, and the number of boxes or cases of product moved throughout the distribution network. These systems and tools show the potential of an inventory management system that will enable information sharing across multiple farms and food hubs and support a growing distribution network across Iowa.
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During this project we researched, developed, tested and implemented the inventory management system we partnered with several farms and food hubs over conference calls, at in person meetings and one on one at their food hub or farm.
During the summer and fall of 2016 we tested and piloted several versions of a product labeling scheme through the network that works with several types of products (frozen, refrigerated, dry, etc). We also ensured that the labeling scheme worked with all types of ways the food hubs marketed the goods at the end. Some food hubs sell individual units and some sell cases of one product. The labeling scheme was determined it would only label and track the number of boxes or cases not the number of units, for example number of 24 oz containers of yogurt.
After developing the label scheme Dr. Krecji’s team began to develop an automated label generating system using an excel database and a Brother Label printer. Farmers can input the number of boxes they have and what food hub is its final destination. The label generator speaks with the label printer and quickly outputs labels at a low price.
Simultaneously while the label generating system was being developed an app using google servers and open source software was developed to track and manage inventory moving through the network. The app has been test and piloted with a food hub and their truck drivers. In March of 2017 the coordinating food hubs began using the app and label generating software every two weeks when shipments were coordinated.
Once the app was fully tested and put into place the app began to allow the coordinated food hubs to run reports to determine the true cost of the number of cases shipped throughout the network.
At the unset of this project, it was hopeful to be able to implement barcodes and scanning systems into the labeling and tracking app. It was determined after research of available technology it would not be cost effective to implement scanning technology. In the first version of the app and labeling scheme, food hubs will enter deliveries and items received using drop downs and buttons on mobile devices and on a desktop app.