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Regional Food Hubs

As we work to rebuild our foodsheds, regional food hubs are an integral ingredient. When “local” began to re-root in the American landscape and psyche during the first decade of the 21st century, we tended to celebrate the two ends of sustainable food systems: farm gate and dinner plate. We nearly forgot that we also had to fiddle with the middle—the supply chain components that drive (sometimes literally) our successes: aggregation, processing, storage, and distribution of products. Perhaps we didn’t adequately acknowledge the realities of bricks and mortar, mechanization, food safety hurdles, transportation logistics…not to mention the need for consistency and reliability of product for a broader marketplace. Or maybe the need for capital to fund the critical infrastructure of the middle simply overwhelmed us in those early days of “local.”

Regardless, the insatiable behemeths of the food economy spent the last half of the 20th century devastating small- and mid-scale farms and food entrepreneurs, and we are now tasked with reseeding the landscape with scale-appropriate solutions such as regional food hubs, the infrastructure of a new middle that generally collects, prepares, markets, and distributes products from a diverse array of farmers and processors. While the components, ownership models, and management approaches vary widely among regional food hubs, they nonetheless tend to serve a shared purpose–knitting together a variety of local food enterprises into what can be more effective and resilient regional market opportunities. These regional food hubs leave us with two fascinating questions to explore together: Is there a connection between common goods and the common good, and how can we best link local and regional initiatives?

 

Farmer and professor Philip Ackerman-Leist teaches at Green Mountain College (GMC) in Poultney, Vermont, where he established the college farm and is the Director of the GMC Farm & Food Project.  He founded the nation’s first online Masters in Sustainable Food Systems  program and is author of Rebuilding the Foodshed and Up Tunket Road.

This blog was originally published as the introduction to The Lexicon of Sustainability's The Food List, weekly talking points to change our food system, #42: Regional Food Hub.

Featured image of UMass Amherst Dining courtesy of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation.