Michigan well represented at the national food hub conference

Innovative local food supply chain work on display at the 2nd annual national food hub conference in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The second National Food Hub Conference was recently held in Raleigh, North Carolina from March 26 – 28, 2014. Some of the best and brightest from around the country that are helping communities build stronger food systems through the use of local and regional food hubs were present. Representatives from hundreds of food hubs from around the country as well as non-profits, local, state and federal government organizations, as well as higher education representatives are all working together to learn and share resources to create a stronger local food system in their own communities.

The first question that you may be asking yourself is, “What is a food hub?” The working definition from the USDA is, “Food hubs are centrally located facilities with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution and/or marketing of locally/regionally food product”. From that definition, it is clear that food hubs can play a number of different roles in the local food supply chain. The conference was able to bring together food hubs both large and small into one setting.

Including representatives from Black River Produce in Vermont, a food hub that has been operating for over 35 years, services more than 2,000 customers across New England. Black River Produce recently completed construction on a USDA certified meat-processing facility that will allow them to create their own regional meat supply chain and avoid the bottlenecks formed by a lack of USDA-certified specialty meat processors that exist across the country. There were also representatives from several fledgling food hubs that located right here in Michigan, including the Allen Street Market Place and the U.P. Food Exchange, both only in existence for a few seasons.

The conference was organized and developed as part of the National Good Food Network an initiative of the Wallace Center. The Wallace Center works to develop stronger local food systems through their work with food hubs, national and local collaborations, and farmers markets, among other projects. Michigan has worked very closely with the Wallace Center in the development of the Michigan Food Hub Network, an initiative of the Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University. Several Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems educators are also very active in the network and work on several regional food hub projects around the state.

As one of those educators working on food hub projects in West Michigan, attending this conference gave me a chance to be exposed to work that is ongoing around the country and brings that knowledge back to the communities that I work with. If you are interested in becoming more engaged with food hub work here in Michigan, visit the website for the Michigan Food Hub Network or contact your local Community Food Systems educator.

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