USDA Releases Report on the Growing Importance of Food Hubs in Rural America

Posted on 03/08/2013 at 12:00 AM by Christa Hartsook

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the release of a report which provides a comprehensive look at the economic role, challenges and opportunities for food hubs in the nation's growing local food movement.

"At USDA we are committed to food hubs because we believe that they offer strong and sound infrastructure support to producers across the country which will also help build stronger regional food systems," said Merrigan. "This report is an important addition to the ongoing research in this field and Hollygrove is an example of how it is done."

The new report is titled The Role of Food Hubs in Local Food Marketing. With an increasing demand for fresh, local, foods, the report finds that the success of food hubs is rapidly expanding, with well over 200 food hubs now operating in the United States. They are a part of a distribution system designed to move locally produced food into mainstream markets by supplying chains for goods to go from farms to the table efficiently. View the full report.

USDA's working definition of 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". More information about USDA's work on food hubs is available at www.ams.usda.gov/foodhubs.

The dramatic increase in the number of food hubs since President Obama took office has been supported by state and federal efforts including USDA programs like Rural Business Enterprise Grant, Rural Business Opportunity Grant, Value-Added Producer Grant, and the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program.

For example, as noted in the report, USDA Rural Development's Cooperative grants can be used to support building local food systems infrastructure. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund in Alabama received a grant to establish a vegetable processing and marketing cooperative and a regional goat processing and marketing cooperative. The Federation also trains and supports members involved in direct marketing activities, such as selling at urban farmers markets, redeeming nutrition assistance coupons and selling directly to schools. Part of the grant focused on business planning and training for community development credit unions.

Many such USDA supported projects, as well as others which support local and regional food systems, are part of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative (KYF). This Initiative coordinates Department wide efforts and work on local and regional food systems. Many food hubs, and similar projects are described in the Know Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, a narrative about USDA's work in local and regional food systems and are on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass Map which maps investments in local and regional food.