Pondering the Purpose of Food Hubs

by firsthandfoods on April 2, 2014

Last week was a whirlwind of activity for many of us in the business of aggregating, distributing and marketing local foods.  The Wallace Center’s National Food Hub Convening took place in Raleigh.  With more than 400 individuals in attendance from across North America, there were 3+ days of tours, training, strategic planning and, of course, lots of conversation in the hallways with like-minded practitioners.  Those of us leading the charge here at Firsthand Foods learned a lot, and have come away with an even stronger conviction that for us, being a food hub MUST be about advancing our mission of creating a more environmentally sound, economically just and socially responsible food system.  Numerous food hubs have come into existence in recent years to reestablish connectivity between larger-scale buyers and smaller-scale farmers at the local level.  But if that goal is pursued without “minding the mission,” then food hubs run the risk of just simply making it easier for the dominant players in our current food system to reap financial benefits from local food supply chains.  And if history is any guide, there are limited to no “trickle down” benefits for small-scale farmers and rural communities.  This argument is well articulated in a recent blog post by Charlie Jackson and Allison Perrett of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP).  They artfully conclude:

We need to be careful to not let the well-meaning efforts to build the infrastructure of local food get in the way of the deeper social change that will ultimately transform our food system. What we don’t need is to grow the movement only to end up looking like what we set out to transform.

For an insightful critique and call to action for the local food movement go to ASAP’s blog and read the full text of Charlie and Allison’s post.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nick October 19, 2016 at 7:04 am

I couldn’t agree more. Currently, food hubs have made a significant impact, but we need to be careful and pay attention to the large incumbents who have their eyes on purchasing local markets. Partnering with the Wal-Marts of the world is never a good strategy. We need to focus on getting the right food in the right hands.

We are working just like you (FHF) to establish a foothold against large-scale buyers and retail grocers. They are not our friends, they are corporate folks who continue to read from the book of Porter – converting every decision into some sort of framework out of a textbook from business school. They chase profits, and will swallow up anyone in their path.

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