Food Hub movement gaining momentum across Michigan

With several food hubs already operating and more in the works the Michigan is embracing local food distribution.

After attending the latest State-wide Food Hub Network meeting at Detroit’s Eastern Market earlier this month, it is clear that food hubs are seen as a growing trend across the state. The meeting was attended by over 100 people from across Michigan that are working with food hub development in many different ways. These meetings are a great venue for education and discussion around the goals of food hubs in the state and provide opportunities to tour already established food hubs like the Eastern Market.

You may be asking yourself, what exactly is a food hub? Well, according to the National Good Food Network’s National Food Hub Collaboration, 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. From this definition we can see that a food hub plays a role in getting products from the producer to the purchaser on a regional scale. While this sounds relatively simple, there are many different approaches to accomplishing this goal. The saying: “You’ve seen one food hub, you’ve seen one food hub,” is an accurate way of describing the differences. To learn more about the differences in food hubs as well as see several examples from across the country, check out the USDA’s Regional Food Hub Resource Guide.

Food hubs are important for local- and community-based food systems in that they can help smaller farmers reach larger institutional and wholesale markets. Food hubs help these producers overcome some of the barriers to farm to institution by creating a reliable supply of local products and distribution system. Food hubs can also help both the purchaser and the producer by facilitating production planning during the winter months ensuring that farmers have the added financial security of a known market for the food they are producing.

Food hubs also have several benefits for purchasers looking to increase local food use in institutions. Many of the food service directors that I talk with say they want to purchase more local food, but are hesitant due to uncertainty of reliable deliveries and quantities they need. Food hubs solve these issues by creating a local distribution system and aggregating food from several sources to ensure the reliable quantities that institutions need.

While the creation of a food hub in your community may seem like a no-brainer, they require careful planning and an investment from all of the stakeholders in the local food system. Ensuring that the food hub will be sustainable for the long term is very important and often requires a feasibility study to ensure there is a viable market in place to support a food hub in your region. There are however many resources available to communities thinking about starting a food hub. Several consultants can be found across the state that work with the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems and specialize in food hubs. The Michigan State University Extension Community Food System team is also working on food hub projects across the state and can be a valuable resource. To find an extension educator in your area working on food hubs visit our “find and expert” page and search for “community food systems”.