Food hubs

Food hubs are businesses or other organizations that aggregate, distribute, and market local and regional food products, usually fresh fruits and vegetables, but also sometimes meat, dairy, grains, prepared foods, or other items. There are many different types of food hubs including retail-driven, non-profit-driven, producer-driven, and consumer-driven models (USDA-Diamond 2012, ). Food hubs often provide participating farmers with access to marketing and sales services, value-added processing, advertising, delivery trucks, and liability insurance (Gaskin 2013).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Strengthened local & regional food systems

  • Increased access to healthy food

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved local economy

Evidence of Effectiveness

Food hubs are a suggested strategy to improve local and regional food systems, facilitate fruit and vegetable purchases by schools, hospitals, and small stores, and increase access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods in low income communities (CDC-State indicator 2013, Lerman 2012, USDA-Food hubs, Matson 2013Schmit 2013, USDA-Matson 2013). Food hubs are also a suggested strategy to improve rural economies and increase the economic viability of small- to mid-size farms (Gaskin 2013, NGFN-Food hub, Lerman 2012, USDA-Food hubs, Schmit 2013). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Food hubs are associated with increased sales opportunities for farmers, increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables for consumers, and increased use of local foods by schools, businesses, and restaurants (Schmidt 2011, USDA-Matson 2013). By providing a single reliable point of purchase for high quality produce, food hubs can lower the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables for consumers and institutions such as schools, hospitals, and convenience stores (CDC-State indicator 2013).

Food hubs that scale up distribution from direct marketing efforts appear to be more successful than those that scale down from mainstream distribution, and those that prioritize social and environmental goals appear more effective that those that focus primarily on economic goals (). Food hubs that educate and build strong relationships between their consumers, producers, and staff, use market analysis, business planning, and business best practices appear to have more sustainable program models and business structures than food hubs that do not (, Severson 2015). 

The costs of new infrastructure for cold storage, processing, marketing, and distributing and the need to secure a sizeable number of suppliers and buyers can be challenges to starting a new hub (Lerman 2012).  

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

As of 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 213 food hubs and 27 state-level food policy councils across the US (CDC-State indicator 2013), for example, Appalachian Harvest in rural Virginia; Good Natured Family Farm regional food hub in Kansas City, Kansas; and Market Mobile regional food hub in Rhode Island and Massachusetts (CDC-HFR 2014). The ReFresh Project in New Orleans is an example of an innovative food hub that collaborates with community development organizations, public health organizations, financial institutions, and private enterprise (RWJF-New Orleans food hub).

Regional on-line food hubs can also connect farmers with consumers. For example, FoodHub.org operates in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska (FoodHub.org). In California, a proposed network of regional food hubs would support individual regional food hub operations and provide a mechanism for coordination between these regional hubs (RFHAC-Melone 2010).

USDA’s Rural Business Development Grants offer federal funding for community economic development projects such as food hubs (USDA-RBD grants). The Cumberland Farmers’ Market in Tracy City, Tennessee is an example of a community that used a rural development grant to establish a food hub (LHC-Rockeymoore 2014).

Implementation Resources

NGFN-Food hub - National Good Food Network (NGFN). Food hub center.

USDA-Barham 2012 - Barham J, Tropp D, Enterline K, Farbman J, Fisk J, Kiraly S. Regional food hub resource guide: Food hub impacts on regional food systems, and the resources available to support their growth and development. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS); 2012.

USDA-Food hubs - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Food hubs: Building stronger infrastructure for small and mid-size producers.

ChangeLab-Food retail - ChangeLab Solutions. Healthy food retail.

WW-Publications - Wholesome Wave (WW). Publications and resources: Fact sheets, reports, and toolkits.

CDC DNPAO-Data - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO). Nutrition, physical activity and obesity: Data, trends and maps online tool.

USDA-Barham 2015 - Barham J, Delgado F. Building a food hub from the ground up: A facility design case study of Tuscarora organic growers. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service. 2015:1-16.

Citations - Evidence

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CDC-State indicator 2013 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO). State indicator report on fruits and vegetables, 2013. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2013.

Gaskin 2013 - Gaskin JW, Munden-Dixon K, Furman C, Beechuck M. Is there farmer interest in food hubs in Georgia? A needs assessment survey. Athens: College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences (CAES), University of Georgia (UGA); 2013.

Schmidt 2011 - Schmidt MC, Kolodinsky JM, Desisto TP, Conte FC. Increasing farm income and local food access: A case study of a collaborative aggregation, marketing, and distribution strategy that links farmers to markets. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 2011;1(4):157–75.

Lerman 2012 - Lerman T, Feenstra G, Visher D. A practitioner’s guide to resources and publications on food hubs and values-based supply chains: A literature review. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE), Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI), University of California, Davis; 2012.

NGFN-Food hub - National Good Food Network (NGFN). Food hub center.

USDA-Food hubs - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Food hubs: Building stronger infrastructure for small and mid-size producers.

Schmit 2013 - Schmit TM, Jablonski BBR, Kay D. Assessing the economic impacts of regional food hubs: The case of regional access. Ithaca: Cornell University; 2013.

Matson 2013 - Matson J, Thayer J. The role of food hubs in food supply chains. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 2013;3(4):43–7.

USDA-Matson 2013 - Matson J, Sullins M, Cook C. The role of food hubs in local food marketing. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development. 2013;73:1-56.

Cleveland 2014* - Cleveland DA, Muller NM, Tranovich AC, Mazaroli DK, Hinson K. Local food hubs for alternative food systems: A case study from Santa Barbara County, California. Journal of Rural Studies. 2014;35:26-36.

LeBlanc 2014* - LeBlanc JR, Conner D, McRae G, Darby H. Building resilience in nonprofit food hubs. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 2014;4(3):121-135.

Severson 2015 - Severson RM, Schmit TM. Building success of food hubs through the cooperative experience: A case study perspective. Ithaca: Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University; 2015.

Citations - Implementation Examples

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CDC-State indicator 2013 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO). State indicator report on fruits and vegetables, 2013. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2013.

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2014.

FoodHub.org - FoodHub.org. FoodHub: Where food people connect.

CDC-HFR 2014 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. Healthier food retail (HFR): An action guide for public health practitioners. 2014.

RWJF-New Orleans food hub - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Culture of health blog: A ReFreshing collaboration is building better health in New Orleans.

RFHAC-Melone 2010 - Melone B, Cardenas E, Cochran J, et al. California network of regional food hubs: A vision statement and strategic implementation plan. Regional Food Hub Advisory Council (RFHAC). 2010.

USDA-RBD grants - US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Rural business development (RBD) grants.

Date Last Updated

Jun 30, 2015