Written by: Caroline Hargraves, UDAF Communication Specialist
What is a food hub? Why are they important? Who do they help and what problems do they solve?
At their core, food hubs are centralized distribution centers that connect locally produced fruit, vegetables, meat, etc. with broader regional markets. Food hubs aggregate lots of produce or goods from multiple producers, allowing small-to-medium sized farmers and ranchers to reach large, institutional buyers like restaurants, schools, hospitals, and more. Food hubs may also provide other support to businesses through means including marketing, cold storage, and minimal processing, but above all, they help farmers spend more time farming and maintaining viable operations by helping them gain access to larger markets that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Recently, we spoke with Kate Wheeler, Farm to Fork and Child Nutrition Specialist with the Utah State Board of Education. “One of the great things about Utah is that we have so many family farms, but this makes farm to institution sales a challenge because very few of those farms can supply the volume that a school district or hospital needs on their own. A food hub would solve this challenge by aggregating products from multiple farmers and allowing schools to obtain their full market volume with a single purchase.
In the most recent USDA Farm to School Census, Utah schools cited several distribution-related barriers to farm to school participation, including a lack of availability of pre-cut/processed local foods, local vendors not offering a broad range of products, and difficulty coordinating purchases of local foods. A food hub or series of food hubs in Utah could potentially address all of these barriers.”
UDAF Commissioner Craig Buttars remarked, “As we discovered during the last year, it’s incredibly important to strengthen our local food systems to keep food produced in Utah connected with all Utah consumers. Supporting the economic viability of Utah’s farmers and ranchers is a priority of the Department and we look forward to developments like food hubs that will benefit our agricultural communities.”
At present, Utah is one of only five states lacking a food hub-style distribution center. The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food is offering a one-time $112,500 Local Food Hub Startup and Development Fund grant, open now through August 27, to one or more entrepreneurs as seed funding for a local food hub. This grant was made possible through a legislative appropriation in order to strengthen our supply chain and expand opportunities for Utah’s agricultural producers. To learn more and apply visit ag.utah.gov/foodhubgrant.
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