Food Hubs Connect Healthy Food, Farms, and Communities

The USDA defines a food hub as 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”, but food hubs do much more. Food hubs are a catalyst for community wellness. They address problems of food insecurity and connect community members to the source of their food.

Building a regional food hub requires collaboration of multiple partners. Each partner contributes unique strengths and resources to the project. Community stakeholders amplify success by participating in project planning and execution and supporting the food hub in their community.

In 2018 the Ohio State University’s Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFact) partnered with the Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO), Seminary Hill Farm, and Franklinton Gardens Urban Farm, to develop a model for food hub businesses in underserved urban communities. The organizations invite community stakeholders, individuals and organizations to attend the Building Regional Food Hubs Conference on Nov. 9, 2018.

The conference will host local food leaders from across the state of Ohio. Anna Haas from Local Food Connection will share online possibilities for urban food hubs. Piper Fernway will describe how Bon Appetit Management Company connects institutions to local food in Appalachia. Leslie Schaller, the founder of the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks’ (ACEnet) Food Venture Center and Nelsonville Food Hub, will tell how ACEnet helps producers enhance their businesses with value-added products.

The conference will feature a panel of practitioners discussing challenges and opportunities for producers in food hub models. Panelist Tadd Petersen, manager of Seminary Hill Farm, notes that producers face many challenges. Tadd says, “Storage is the number one barrier facing producers.” Food hubs can provide aggregation, packing, processing and storage space to help farmers expand business capacity. Seminary Hill Farm works with 30 local farms to provide catering and event services, supply MTSO’s dining facilities with farm fresh food, and operate a 300-member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription. A tour of Seminary Hill Farm will follow the conference.

Attend the Building Regional Food Hubs Conference

Date: Friday, Nov. 9, 2018

Time: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Location: Methodist Theological School in Ohio, 3081 Columbus Pike, Delaware, Ohio

Fee: $10

To learn more and register for the event visit www.mtso.edu/foodhubconference

Flyer building_regional_food_hubs_poster-2gwvty2

References

1. Barham, James, Debra Tropp, Kathleen Enterline, Jeff Farbman, John Fisk, and Stacia Kiraly. Regional Food Hub Resource Guide. Washington, D.C. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service. April 2012.

*Article originally published in Farm & Dairy Newspaper

Get ready for retail: Selling farm products at grocery stores and restaurants

Retail and restaurant sales are an opportunity for farmers and food businesses to increase sales volume and revenue, while building brand awareness in the local marketplace. But selling farm products to retail buyers isn’t as easy as showing up with samples. Before approaching grocery store and restaurant buyers, farmers must understand the market, obtain required insurance and certifications, and comply with industry standards for packaging and labeling.

Understand the market: products, people, promotions and pricing

Visit the grocery store(s) you wish to sell product to. Survey the store’s current products, customers, promotions, and pricing. Pay special attention to similar products that your products will compete against, noting the price range. Typical retail mark-up is 40%; if the retail price of fresh asparagus is $2.89 per pound, the grocer paid about $1.73 per pound.

Enjoy a meal at the restaurant you wish to sell products to. Look for language or signage that promotes local sourcing. Notice fellow diners- will your products appeal to the restaurant’s typical customers? Review the menu and consider if your products are a good fit. Make note of prices on the menu. Restaurant industry food costs average 30-35%, depending upon the style of restaurant.

Insurance and certifications

Retail and restaurant buyers may require vendors to maintain a level of product liability insurance, worker’s compensation and/or other insurance policies. Grocers may require vendor farms to be Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified. Buyers will appreciate a copy of your farm’s food safety plan, and an invitation to perform an on-farm food safety inspection.

Be prepared to provide buyers with documentation proving your products are USDA Certified Organic, Certified Natural, Verified Non-GMO, Animal Welfare Approved or other specialty certifications. You may need to explain terms like “grass-fed”, “pasture raised”, “natural”, “antibiotic free”, and how those terms can be used to market products to customers.

Packaging and labeling

Grocery stores and restaurants require product to be delivered in packaging that complies with industry standards. Packaging may need to include USDA or industry grading, sizing and quality standard information.

Understand legal regulations for labeling retail products, including Country of Origin labeling, USDA inspection seals, label claims, weights and business contact information that allows for product traceability. Many grocers require a price look up (PLU) or universal product code (UPC) label.

Pitching your farm products

Farmers that understand the market, obtain required insurance and certifications, and comply with industry standards for packaging and labeling, can approach buyers with confidence! The first successful sale is the start of a long-term mutually beneficial buyer-seller relationship.

Need help getting ready for retail?

Join the Ohio State University Direct Food and Ag Marketing Team for MarketReady Producer Training.

Dates: Two-part training on Thursday, November 1, 2018 and Friday, November 9, 2018

Time: 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. both days

Location: OSU Extension- Cuyahoga County, 12200 Fairhill Rd. E Bldg. Cleveland, OH 44120

Fee: $30 covers both days (lunch is provided)

Register: Contact gardner.1148@osu.edu or 740-289-2071 ext 132 by October 30th.

*Article originally published in Farm & Dairy Newspaper

Contribute to Food Hub Knowledge, Participate in 2018 Food Hub Benchmarking Study

Did you know that the average gross revenue of a food hub in 2017 was $2.4 million? Or that the most common types of customers for food hubs are restaurants and direct consumers? Or that the average number of vendor selling to a food hub was 55 in 2013?

 

“Findings of the 2017 National Food Hub Survey,” published in March 2018, details these and many more findings from a comprehensive review of the maturing food hub sector in the United States. The report reviews many aspects of a food hub business from finances to food safety, giving food hub stakeholders access to information that can help inform their decisions, based on a national survey of existing food hubs. You can learn more about the study’s results in a webinar hosted by the National Good Food Network at 3:30pm EST on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

“Counting Values: Food Hub Financial Benchmarking Study,” released in 2014 by the Wallace Center at Winrock International, Farm Credit East, and other partners, details financial and operational characteristics for food hubs in a way that can serve as performance indicators for other businesses in the sector.

Food hub stakeholders have an opportunity now to contribute to an update of research like this through the 2018 Food Hub Benchmarking Study. The study, according to the Wallace Center at Winrock International will collect financial and operational data from food hub businesses, standardizing and aggregating the data to develop sector insights and performance indicators. Hubs that participate in the study will receive and individualized benchmark report and technical assistance on using the report as a business tool. Learn more about how to participate in the study here.

According to the “Findings of the 2017 National Food Hub Survey,” fresh produce and herbs are the most common products sold by food hubs in the U.S.