The impetus for this guide and the work it reflects originated with the establishment of USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” (KYF2) Initiative. Launched in 2009, the mission of KYF2 is to strengthen the critical connection between farmers and consumers and support local and regional food systems. As such, it is closely aligned with the broader mission of USDA to support agriculture, rural development, and healthy nutrition. While there is no office, staff, or budget dedicated to KYF2, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan chairs a task force of USDA employees representing every agency within the Department in order to break down bureaucratic silos, develop commonsense solutions for communities and farmers, and foster new partnerships inside USDA and across the country.
The KYF2 task force recognized early that one of the recurring challenges faced by producers is the lack of distribution infrastructure and services that, if made available, would allow them to take greater advantage of the growing demand for locally and regionally grown food in larger volume markets (such as grocery stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and universities). As one response to this challenge, KYF2 established a regional food hub subcommittee to examine the role of regional food hubs in improving market access for producers along with their potential for expanding the availability of healthy, fresh food in communities, including underserved communities.
In order to engage a diverse group of informed and motivated stakeholders in this endeavor, USDA partnered with the Wallace Center at Winrock International to establish the National Food Hub Collaboration in October 2010. Along with USDA and the Wallace Center, founding members of the Collaboration include the National Good Food Network, the National Association of Produce Market Managers, and the New York City-based nonprofit Project for Public Spaces. Since its establishment, the National Food Hub Collaboration has worked to identify and profile regional food hubs across the country and collect and analyze data on the scope and scale of food hub operations in order to more clearly understand their potential role and impact in the U.S. food system as well as the ongoing challenges and impediments they face.
Research to date has included developing a database of regional food hub operations (see Appendix 1); conducting a focus group with key leaders in the wholesale market industry; carrying out an online national survey of food hubs and public markets; conducting follow-up phone interviews with a subsample of surveyed food hubs; and most recently, conducting an online survey of wholesale markets to determine the availability of infrastructure and services that could be used by regional food hubs (see Appendix 4 for more background on research methods and results). This document is a direct outgrowth of the Collaboration’s work and accomplishments over the past year. By compiling relevant and practical information, the Collaboration hopes to share lessons learned, promote the continued success of active food hubs, and spur the development of new food hub operations.