Food hub impacts on regional food systems, and the resources available to support their growth and development
The target audiences for this guide are food entrepreneurs and their supporters who are interested in starting food hubs and operators of food hubs who are interested in expanding. This guide will also help philanthropic foundations, public agencies, lending institutions, and economic development organizations understand the nature, function, and operating models of food hubs, helping them to engage hubs in their areas. Both newly established and more seasoned regional food hubs have not intended to provide a blueprint for starting or expanding a food hub operation. That is a much more technical and place-based endeavor that would require a greater level of tailored strategies and plans than is appropriate to offer here. Over time, however, the intention of the National Food Hub Collaboration is to continue to gather information on best practices and lessons learned so that we can augment the information currently contained in this guide and provide additional resources that will further support the development of regional food hubs.
Defining Characteristics of a Regional Food Hub
Regional food hubs are defined less by a particular business or legal structure, and more by how their functions and outcomes affect producers and the wider communities they serve. Defining characteristics of a regional food hub include:
- Carries out or coordinates the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of primarily locally/regionally produced foods from multiple producers to multiple markets.
- Considers producers as valued business partners instead of interchangeable suppliers and is committed to buying from small to mid-sized local producers whenever possible.
- Works closely with producers, particularly small-scale operations, to ensure they can meet buyer requirements by either providing technical assistance or findings partners that can provide this technical assistance.
- Uses product differentiation strategies to ensure that producers get a good price for their products. Examples of product differentiation strategies include identity preservation (knowing who produced it and where it comes from), group branding, specialty product attributes (such as heirloom or unusual varieties), and sustainable production practices (such as certified organic, minimum pesticides, or “naturally” grown or raised).
- Aims to be financially viable while also having positive economic, social, and environmental impacts within their communities, as demonstrated by carrying out certain production, community, or environmental services and activities.