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Proceedings & Resources

Spring 2012 Conference: "Connecting the Spokes of the New Food Hub Network"

barhampirogTesta TourtestaNGFN's Food Hub Collaboration hosted the first national conference dedicated to food hubs and their roles in regional food systems in Chicago, April 19-20. Food hub representatives and supporters from around the country gathered to network, share best practices, and benefit from one-on-one technical assistance. The full agenda is available here.

Scroll down to read summaries and listen to audio recordings of the entire proceedings, or jump to a panel from the list below.

Concurrent Sessions

Nuts and Bolts of Food Hub Operations

Supply Side Success The Buyers' Perspective: The Demand Side Financing Food Hubs: Insights from Investors

 Technology Options


Thursday, April 19

GoodnessGreenessFood Hub Tours

Participants kicked off the conference with an optional morning visit to a few of Chicago's local food hubs. One tour featured two farm-to-consumer model hubs, Irv & Shelly's Fresh Picks and Gourmet Gorilla. On the wholesale model tour, participants explored Testa Produce's Platinum LEED-certified facility and then visited Goodness Greeness. More information on the tours is available in the agenda.

Back to Top

Opening and Welcome with Introduction of the NGFN Food Hub Collaboration

WelcomeWallace Center Director John Fisk addressed the role of food hubs in the burgeoning market for local and regional food, then outlined the conference objectives: to identify opportunities and challenges to scaling up sustainably while increasing food access, creating healthy communities, and growing economies. Jim Barham, of USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, then discussed USDA's role in strengthening local and regional food systems.

Audio: MP3 | Back to Top

Nuts and Bolts of Food Hub Operations: Farm to Consumer Models

This session gave food hub operators selling primarily through consumer markets a chance to provide insight into the operational aspects of their work and for participants to dig deep into the nitty gritty details that make up their operation such as product mix, pricing/ordering/receiving/packing and delivering schedules and the infrastructure utilized by the hubs. Two pieces of key advice that came out of this session include: utilize existing infrastructure, and food banks can be a very valuable collaborator with food hubs.

Moderator: Warren King (WellSpring, Ltd). Panelists: Laura Theis (Idaho's Bounty), Jeff Randol (Farm to Family Naturally), Noah Fulmer (Farm Fresh Rhode Island).

Audio: MP3 | Back to Top

Supply Side Success: Logistics for Quality and Consistency

This facilitated “fishbowl” discussion engaged participants in conversation on key aspects of supply side logistics, such as: producer coordination, network and cooperative structures, production planning, food safety and GAP certification, building farmer capacity, quality control, harvest schedules, delivery methods, and post-harvest handling.

Moderator: Shanna Ratner (Yellow Wood Associates). Anchor panelists: Jennifer Curtis (Farmhand Foods), Susan Futrell (Red Tomato), Tony Serrano (ALBA), Steve Warshawer (Wallace Center/NGFN and Beneficial Farm CSA).

Audio: MP3 | Back to Top

The Buyers’ Perspective: The Demand Side of the Equation for Regional Food for Farm to Business/Institution Models

In this session food hubs and wholesale buyers discuss the various topics related to food hub buyers including building and managing relationships with buyers, transparency and sharing farmer’s stories.  The discussion that arose included how large national distributors can work with food hubs to procure local products, the importance of crop planning with farmers to meet institutional demand, and how to sell products to schools within the constraints of tight food budgets.

Moderator: Jim Slama ( Panelists: Ron Cropper (Goodness Greeness), Irv Cernauskas (Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks), Jason Weedon (Gourmet Gorilla), and Denis Jennisch (U.S. Foods).

Audio: MP3 | Back to Top

Financing Food Hubs: Insights from Investors – Finance 101

Investors and food hub representatives discussed the challenges, successes, and opportunities on the road to accessing capital to finance day-to-day operations and enterprise growth. Kentucky-based Grasshoppers Distribution, which started with a USDA Value Added Producer grant and then moved to private sector funding sources, is currently looking at expanding debt and equity, as well as crowd-funding options. Grown Locally, a NE Iowa producer coop which returns 80% of its profits to growers, is considering taking on debt to move into a new building. A central Virginia hub, Blue Ridge Produce, discussed how feasibility studies and financial modeling that preceded its business plan subsequently garnered interest from “angel” investors. Farm Credit Council emphasized the importance of equity and planning and then fielded a lively question and answer session with participants.

Moderator: Malini Ram Moraghan (Wholesome Wave). Panelists: Jim Epstein (Blue Ridge Produce), Johnice Cross (Grown Locally), Gary Matteson (Farm Credit Council), Ellen McGeeney (Grasshoppers Distribution)

Audio: MP3 | Back to Top

Determining Your Software Needs

With many food hub software providers in attendance in addition to the panelists, this conversation was rich with experience. A few terms were defined, and there was some terrific advice given. One such gem: look at your business model for growth, and make sure that growth is easy to do with the software you choose (two examples: if you are looking to enter large scale retail, make sure the software can do that; if you want to add many more producers and tell their stories, make sure it’s easy to add producers and upload their photos). A careful study of the conversation will reveal some of the questions to ask yourself as you choose which software solution to adopt.

Moderator: Erica Block (Local Orbit). Panelists: Benzi Ronen (Farmigo), Amanda Oborne (FoodHub), Julie Arkenbrandt (Local Orbit).

Audio: MP3 | Back to Top


Friday, April 20

Plenary Session: Food Hubs as Drivers for Healthier Food Systems

Plenary PanelDeborah Kane, National Director of USDA's Farm to School Program, began this session with a look at two current trends in our food system: one showing exceptional growth in demand for local and regional food, and another showing increasing rates of obesity and diet-related illness. She then highlighted current efforts to tackle the latter trend by increasing healthy food access. Next, a panel of food hub and food system leaders discussed their work creating economically viable business models that serve producers and also improve food access for under-served populations. Panelists touched on how to broaden your customer base and reach more diverse populations, through sales to schools, hospitals, and other institutions; strategies for managing the tension between ensuring a good price for producers and keeping food affordable; beneficial impacts from outreach to diverse populations; and other important lessons learned along the way.

Moderated by Deborah Kane (USDA Farm to School Program). Panelists: Haile Johnston (Common Market), Noah Fulmer (Farm Fresh Rhode Island), and Kymm Mutch (School Food FOCUS).

Audio: MP3 [first 10 minutes missing from this recording]

Value Chain2Conference participants, grouped by region, then engaged in a facilitated exercise to stimulate ideas about the market for healthy food and improved health outcomes. They explored the role food hubs and other partners can play shaping and responding to demand, and concluded the exercise by mapping their findings in a value chain.

Facilitated by Shanna Ratner.

Audio: MP3

Interested in facilitating the value chain conversation with stakeholders in your region?

Value ChainThe resource below provides a guide, including an example from the conference, to initiate the discussion in your community.

PowerPoint | PDF | Back to Top



Lunch with Keynote Speaker Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of USDA

MerriganThe Food Hub Collaboration was honored to host Deputy Secretary of the USDA, Kathleen Merrigan, as Keynote Speaker during Friday’s lunch. She announced the release of the Regional Food Hub Resource Guide earlier that morning. Merrigan shared great news for regional food hubs, stating that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stebenow’s marks for the 2012 Farm Bill specifically charged the Farm Bill to help spur the creation of food hubs to connect farms to schools and other institutions. She also commented on growing enthusiasm around the country for regional and local food systems, noting that food hubs are a solution that create market opportunities and jobs. The Deputy Secretary encouraged conference attendees to continue building strong businesses and challenged them to:

  • Use and understand the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Market News Reports, which provide unbiased price and sales information for farm products, to gauge the efficacy of this resource for the food hub community, and to provide feedback to the USDA.
  • Learn more about USDA programs that support producers, such as the Rural Cooperative Development Program, and figure out how to get farmers to be owners in food hub businesses.
  • Think about how other federal agencies can support regional and local food systems so the USDA can task them with specific actions.
  • Establish strong relationships with public health advocates in their local communities and work to increase that sector's interest in supporting regional and local food systems.
  • Find links between local, regional, and organic food efforts, and determine how these relationships can be communicated to the public to grow the movement.
  • Utilize the Know Your Farmer Know Your Food Compass to learn about resources and opportunities, and to engage communities with the tool as well. This summer, in the next phase of the project, food hubs, new case studies, and investments will be added to the Compass.

Audio: MP3 | Back to Top

Nuts and Bolts of Food Hub Operations: Farm to Business/Institution Models

In this panel discussion and Q&A session, experienced food hub managers provided detailed insight into key operational aspects of their work, such as managing staff and volunteers; profitability and financing; business models; management of logistics (including technology and software-based options); and facilities and infrastructure management for food hubs that deliver directly to consumers.

Moderator: Nicole Mason (Veritable Vegetable). Panelists: Jim Crawford (Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative), Bob Scaman (Goodness Greeness), and Bu Nygrens (Veritable Vegetable).

Audio: MP3 | Back to Top


Supply Side Success: Logistics for Quality and Consistency

Food hub representatives engaged in a "fish bowl" discussion of supply side challenges including producer coordination, production planning, and logistics. Participants considered the merits of buying versus leasing a truck, managing risks and expectations, and opportunities to piggyback on existing infrastructure rather than reinvent the wheel. They also shared solutions (and failures) for communications, IT, and maintaining good relationships with growers.

Moderator: Ann Karlen (Fair Food). Anchor Panelists: Steve Warshawer  (Beneficial Farm CSA, Wallace Center / NGFN), Diana Endicott (Good Natured Family Farms), Alan Moore (Local Food Hub), Ellen McGeeney (Grasshoppers Distribution).

Audio: MP3 | Back to Top


The Buyers’ Perspective: The Demand Side of the Equation for Farm to Consumer Models

Managers of food hubs with a consumer focus talked about how to build a consumer market through effective education and engagement programs, particularly in underserved communities. They shared their experiences employing innovative market making techniques, such as mobile markets, partnerships with employers, and using city facilities to increase access. Other projects discussed were: an expansion to include a drop-in medical center, a farm stand program, food box program, corner stores to provide programming, site demonstration kitchens, working with a children’s drama group to raise awareness, and community engagement classes like “Soul and Soil.” Panelists also addressed the challenges of food access and adequate distribution networks, and they emphasized the importance of redefining the social context of food and re-creating a community food culture.

Moderator: Kathy Nyquist (New Venture Advisors).  Panelists: Sona Desai (Intervale), Dan Carmody (Eastern Market), Dr. Jifunza Wright Carter (Black Oaks/Healthy Food Hub).

Audio recording not available for this panel. | Back to Top

Financing Food Hubs: Insights from InvestorsSeven Minute Pitches from Hubs to Investors

Three businesses described their vision and needs, and a large panel of experts in various domains gave advice. Corbin Hill Farm, a multi-farm CSA selling into low-income neighborhoods of the Bronx wants to scale up; GROWN Locally, a producer cooperative in Iowa, is considering buying a warehouse; and the Western MA Food Processing Center is considering a significant scale increase. Some of the advice given is specific to these businesses, but some insights are applicable to almost every business.

Moderator: Malini Ram Moraghan (Wholesome Wave). Panelists: Mike Gabriel (RSF Social Finance), Larry Fisher (ACEnet), Jim Barham (USDA AMS), Brad Leibov (Liberty Prairie Foundation), Sam Earle (Local Food Systems), Patty Cantrell (Regional Food Solutions LLC), Denis Jennisch (US Food Service).

Presenting Hubs: Western MA Food Processing Center, MA—a non-profit, small scale processor with a farm to institution model; GROWN Locally, IA—a producer cooperative serving the wholesale market considering purchasing a distribution center; Corbin Hill Road Farm, NYC—an LLC selling produce boxes to inner-city residents planning significant growth.

Audio: MP3 | Back to Top



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