What is a Food Hub?

A Montana Co-op Food Hub is a place to pick up your order once a week.  It may also perform several other roles that support your community, including:
-  A producer drop-point with on-site storage for dry, refrigerated, and frozen goods.
-  A place of community gathering and networking, where local producers and consumers meet and connect.
-  Food growing, processing, preparation, storage and delivery of local food to individuals, restaurants, stores, and institutions.
-  Where new business ideas are discussed and created.
-  Teaching, sharing, and supporting good health, including exercise activities and coaching.
-  A local grocery store.
-  A community kitchen and/or community garden.
-  See more examples below... benefiting both producers and consumers!

Each Montana Co-op Food Hub involves people coming together to support many of the above goals to benefit their community.  There are no requirements or licenses required to have a basic Montana Co-op Food Hub that provides a service where people pick up their fresh local food order year round.  It may be at an existing business, or the community can create something new.  The Montana Co-op is building a state-wide network of Food Hubs; all inter-connected through a transportation service with regional sorting food hubs.  The Montana Co-op works with each community in developing their Food Hub.  The connected network of Food Hubs share in resources and events, and promotes community hubs to share their successes with each other.  This form of collaboration between Food Hubs is a unique model for on-line Co-ops and Food Hubs.  Our Food Hubs working together will contribute toward a strong Montana food system, providing food security for all.  

The Montana Co-op supports new and existing local food producers and communities as they build a new 21st century food system that is healthier for people, the environment, and the economy.  This article gives a great example of a Food Hub and "How To Build A Local Food System, To Make Local Food Actually Work."

Current Montana Co-op Food Hub Locations, click here.

To learn the benefits of creating a regional network of Food Hubs, click here.           

If you don't have a MT Co-op Food Hub in your area, here are some things to consider when looking for a place, click here.  

See information on a 
Survey of Food Hubs  (Page 30 talks about values that Food Hubs aspire to based on their community needs).  

96% of 107 Food Hubs surveyed indicated that their mission was related or strongly related to improving human health in their community.  It is the goal of the Montana Co-op to have Food Hubs in every community, owned and operated by the local people, and fulfilling the most important need they have surrounding food security and other health related issues.  

Examples of Food Hub Services*:  Items benefiting PRODUCERS...
-Local drop point for producers. Potential direct pickup at producer farm or business.
-Distribution service from producers' town to multiple Food Hubs throughout Montana. 
-Refrigerated, frozen and/or dry goods storage: i.e. walk in cooler, packinghouse, etc.
-Support with marketing, operations, and other business services. 
-Find new markets for new and existing producers (i.e. local - international).
-Coordinate new farmers with available land, expertise, and capital.
-Support new value-added food processing entrepreneurs and establishments.
-Organize a local “farmer equipment” and “harvest support” sharing program.
-Technology support.
-Source for use of un-harvested food including “seconds”.
-Training on best practices.
-Seed Bank.
-Art Gallery.
-A farmers'/flea market, a place to display new and used product for local consumers.
-A place to highlight your product, and connect with other producers and thankful customers. 

Examples of Food Hub Services*:  Items benefiting CONSUMERS...
-Pick-up point for Montana Co-op consumers (access to regionally produced food and Montana made products).
-A place for education and social service programs.
-Increase community networking; building relationships and cohesiveness. 
-Community employment opportunities/matching/think tank.
-Community garden or farm. 
-Community cooking and food preservation.
-Home delivery service for Montana Co-op orders.
-Health support, exercise activities, and/or wellness coaching. 
-Retail grocery store (Fresh Produce; refillable jars from bulk containers): Community Grocery Stores.
-Retail products store (Montana made non-food; or packaged foods). 
-Used products store (i.e. auction/barter/sale).
-Computer available for on-line ordering through the Montana Co-op; with internet access.
-Accepting SNAP (food stamps) benefits and trade dollar programs. 
-A place of gathering (i.e. coffee shop, restaurant, local music, games, shared library, activities, etc.). 
-A farmers/flea market; a place to display new and used product, meet local producers and sample product.
-Food Bank.
-Seed Bank.
-Art Gallery.
-Repair/Recycle Shop.
-Games Center (indoor and outdoor fun games; for kids and adults)
-Tool Library.
-Boat and/or Vehicle Co-op.
-Dog park.

To learn about the operations model of the Co-op, including roles of the producer, customer, Food Hub, and Co-op, click here.
For more Questions and Answers, click here.

To gain a true understanding of the development of Food Hubs, it's important to research what has already been done to implement and develop new community Food Hubs around the United States.  Start by reviewing the works of the following organizations:
USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), NGFN (National Good Food Network), and The Wallace Center & Food Hub Collaboration

In September 2009, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative to minimize barriers to local food systems development.  A food hub, the initiative explains, provides a wide variety of services.  Below are some of the results released April 27th, 2011 (to see the full document, click here).

On April 19, 2011, at the Making Good Food Work Conference in Detroit, Michigan, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan released the results of a nationwide analysis of food hubs.  Merrigan focused on the economic opportunities of food hubs, an emerging set of business models to provide additional outlets for small and medium sized farmers and to bring local food to more consumers in a region.

Core Components of a Food Hub

  • Aggregation/Distribution 
  • Drop off point for multiple farmers and a pick up point for distribution firms and customers who want to buy source-identified local and regional food
  • Active Coordination 
  • Hub business management team that actively coordinates supply chain logistics, including seeking new opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and consumers.
  • Permanent Facilities 
  • Provide the space and equipment for food to be stored, lightly processed, and sorted

    “As I talk to farmers across the country, regardless of what they produce or where, they all share one common challenge: how to best move product from the farm to the marketplace. This is especially crucial for small and midsize farmers who may not have enough capital to own their own trucks, their own refrigeration units, or their own warehouse space. They might not have the resources to develop sophisticated distribution routes, build effective marketing campaigns or network with regional buyers and customers.“
    USDA Deputy Secretary, Kathleen Merrigan, April 2011

The USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know your Food initiative promotes a connection between producers and consumers, and hopes to create new opportunities for farmers, ranchers, consumers, as well as rural communities.  In addition, the initiative hopes to expand access to healthy food for people nationwide.

The Know your Farmer, Know Your Food subcommittee on Food Hubs discovered:
-Average food hub sales are nearly $1 million annually.
-On average, each food hub creates 13 jobs.
-The median number of small and medium size suppliers served by an individual food hub is 40.
-Almost all food hubs offer fresh produce and the majority offer dairy and protein products as well.
-Nearly 40 percent of food hubs surveyed were started by entrepreneurial producers, non-profits, volunteer organizations, producer groups, or other organizations looking to build a strong distribution and aggregation infrastructure for small and medium size producers.
-Over 40 percent of existing food hubs operate in “food deserts” to increase access to fresh, healthful and local products in communities under served by full-service food retail outlets.

The USDA expects demand for local food to grow to as much as $7 billion. This indicates a great deal of economic potential for more food hubs around the United States, enabling smaller producers to be connected to larger local and regional markets.

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