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Food Hubs Help Small Farms Survive, Prosper

Many U.S. restaurants want to buy locally grown farm products, and can get them from food hubs.

| BY Kent McDill

There is a growing desire among consumers for fresh, locally grown food products. There is a growing number of small farm owners who want to get their meat, vegetable and grain products to consumers.

The struggle is to get these two groups together in a way that makes economic sense for the buyer (appropriate costs) and the producer (appropriate revenue).

A solution which is growing in popularity and numbers is a United States Department of Agriculture endorsed form of food distribution known as a food hub.

Food hubs are distribution centers for locally grown farm products. Farmers pay the hub to have their products distributed to a larger number of consumers than the farmer can reach by himself, and consumers pay an extra fee beyond the cost of the food to receive the locally grown products within a day or two of them leaving the farm.

“They tackle a critical need: the infrastructure and business management needed to handle the logistics of bringing food from the farm to the plate – things farmers often don’t have the time or resources to accomplish,’’ FarmAid said in a recent release.

Since the turn of the century, the number of small farms (less than 50 acres) in the United States has grown significantly. In order to assist those farmers in making a living at what they do, there are now approximately 240 food hubs operating in 40 states in the U.S.

Locally grown or raised farm products are very popular in many U.S. restaurants, not just in rural communities but in large urban areas as well. Food hubs help get the food from the farmer to the restaurant, and allow the restaurants to get a variety of fresh farm products from one source.

In November of 2013, the USDA produced a report on the growth of food hubs in the country, stating that food hubs had sales of $3.7 million in 2012.

In the Chicago area, a food hub in Fairbury, two hours south of the city, collects goods from approximately 40 farms in the area. The goods are brought by the farmer to the food hub, which then makes the trip north to the city to visit numerous businesses.

Food hubs serve more of a purpose than just food distribution. Part of the membership fee includes less expensive group liability insurance for the farmers, as well as technical assistance in delivery of goods. The food hub also provides marketing, which individual farmers could never be able to pay for.

“What I want to be doing is the part I love – working with the animals and raising my kids on the ranch,” said cattle rancher Doniga Markegard of San Gregorio, Calif., in an interview with National Public Radio. “But I also need to be marketing our product, going to markets and talking with customers. There are a lot of administrative aspects to running a small family ranch, and they are time-consuming.”

In most cases, the cost of products provided by food hubs is higher than one would pay at a chain supermarket (in part because of delivery or signup costs) but are competitive with so-called boutique grocery stores which continue to spread through urban communities in the United States.

 



About the Author


Kent McDill

kmcdill@spectrem.com

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.