The 2014 Great Lakes Expo offers opportunities to learn about food hubs in Michigan
This year’s Great Lakes Fruit and Vegetable Expo has opportunities for farmers to learn about ways to engage with sustainable local food systems through food hubs.
This year’s Great Lakes Fruit and Vegetable Expo is taking place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from December 9-11, 2014 at the Devos Place Convention Center. The annual event is one of the largest farmer and farm market focused educational conferences in the nation. While there are always opportunities to learn about best practices in specialty crop production, organic production and farm marketing, this year’s conference also includes a session on food hubs.
Food hubs have become a popular solution to the problem of distributing larger quantities of local food to local sources such as retail markets, wholesale buyers and institutions. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service defines food hubs as “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.” This definition shows the many ways that local farmers can benefit from working with food hubs to help distribute and market their products. Food hubs work to develop close personal relationships with the farmers and producers they source from in order to ensure that their buyers are well informed of the quality and sources of the products that they are purchasing.
Food hubs can also take away some of the uncertainty and risk associated with farming by ensuring that their producers have a consistent outlet for their products. While many small farmers are unsure of how much produce they will sell on a weekly basis at the market, food hubs can guarantee purchases by acting as a broker between farmers and larger wholesale purchasers. Food hubs have also worked with both farmers and buyers during the winter months when production is low; to plan the next season’s production. For example, food hubs may engage a particular purchaser who knows that they will use “x pounds” of tomatoes every week when they are available. This information is shared with vegetable growers who can supply the tomatoes for a set price. This practice is known as “production planning”, for more information visit watch this webinar from the National Good Food Network.
These aspects of working with a food hub, along with many more benefits will be discussed in greater detail during the GL Expo Food Hub session that I will be leading on Wednesday December 10 at 2 p.m. For more information on existing or planned food hubs in your community visit the Michigan State University Extension Community Food System page and search for Extension experts in your county.