Secretary Vilsack has been known to speak metaphorically about two forms of agriculture – small scale and industrial – as “two sons,” both of whom he loves equally, often to the outrage of proponents of both models. And if the USDA’s recent history seems evidence that he loves his industrial son more, the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program introduced in 2009 speaks to what the Secretary rarely admits in person: that his small-scale son needs his love, too.
The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) program’s mission is to better connect consumers with local producers and to help consumers develop a better understanding of how food gets to their plates. And they’ve been doing a great job.
In a recent presentation, “Regional Food Hubs: Linking Consumers to New Markets,” KYF2 describes the concept of the regional food hub (“a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products”), explains how these hubs help promote the program’s mission, and highlights two thriving food hubs: La Montanita Food Hub and Appalachian Sustainable Development Rural Food Hub. The presentation also describes different types of hubs – hybrid markets, shipping point markets, wholesale/terminal produce markets and super-hubs called “healthy food hubs,” which “create locations where urban agriculture, farmers markets, health screening, and nutritional education collide in one essential location.”
Connecting consumers and small producers has been an ongoing struggle. Although the need is now being addressed by farmers’ markets, CSAs and other programs around the country, moving away from our current industrial food system will take an even bigger collaborative effort. KYF2’s thorough analysis of regional food hubs shows that they are a great alternative for smaller producers to gather together and make more of an impact. Not only that, but the hubs can provide other benefits for farmers (business support, pre-season planning), consumers (access to healthy food) and the surrounding communities (new jobs).
Overall, food hubs seem to be a viable option to connect consumers with producers – and with support from the USDA and its KYF2 program, the concept has the potential to spread around the country (more than it already has!). We’re excited that KYF2’s Food Hub Subcommittee work plan supports this expansion, calling for the creation of a regional food hub resource guide along with an assessment of existing USDA funding streams to find those that could be used to foster the development of regional food hubs. With these two important deliverables, we can hope to see growth soon.
Read about the local food hub in Charlottesville, VA, another prosperous food hub written about on Ecocentric.