As reported earlier in this blog, direct sales of food for human consumption grew 32% in Maryland between 2007 and 2012. However, sales of local food to grocery stores and institutions in Maryland has not been as robust because the channels for local food aggregation and distribution are not yet well-formed. That may be changing.
Vermont is the country’s leader in sourcing local food. According to the 2012 ag census, their consumers purchased twice as much food from farmers as the next highest state. And despite having only 11% of Maryland’s population, Vermont has 12 food hubs vs. three in Maryland, according to the USDA Food Compass Map. Those food hubs in Vermont aggregate and distribute food to grocery stores and institutions.
The National Good Food Network defines a regional 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.” In short, food hubs create the food chain between small and mid-scale farmers and secondary markets.
Most food hubs provide many other services beside aggregation and distribution, merging good business principles and social mission objectives, such as good nutrition training, food for the hungry, etc. Quoting a 2013 USDA ERS publication, these services are creating “food value chains or business arrangements distinguished by their commitment to transparency, collaborative business planning and exchange of market intelligence and business know how among chain partners, and their interest in developing business strategies and solutions that yield tangible benefits to each participant in the system.”
The National Good Food Network reports that over 400 food hubs have been formed in the U.S. and that most are making profits. They are also making a difference in their communities.
New food hubs are being actively pursued in Howard County, Baltimore City and Easton, in addition to the Hub and Spoke project now operating in Southern Maryland. The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has been asked to coordinate efforts on behalf of the state.
I hope to be reporting on lots of news about Maryland’s new food hubs in the next year!