Overcoming Challenges of Local: Food Hubs
Consumers have a growing interest in local foods. According to the USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture, direct to consumer food sales increased threefold from 1992-2007 and grew twice as fast as total agricultural sales in US.1 Food produced to be sold at local markets, however, still accounts for a tiny amount of agricultural production. Between 1978-2007, farms that engaged in direct-to-consumer food sales represented only 5.5% of all farms and 0.3% of total farm sales.2 Many small farmers selling their produce locally struggle to compete with gigantic industrial farms whose domination of the market allow them to sell their food more cheaply.
Creating local “food hubs” to address some of the existing gaps in local food distribution is a way to overcome these challenges. Food hubs are facilities that help with aggregation, storage, distribution, and/or marketing of locally produced food. Food hubs are an expanding idea; there are now hundreds of food hubs in the US that help nurture vibrant local food systems.
The area along the Winookski River, north of Burlington used to be a dumping ground, where residents would leave junk that wouldn’t fit in their garbage bins. But now these fields now have lettuce, flowers and tomatoes. The 350 acre area is known as the Intervale, home to a handful of farms taking advantage of low-rent “incubator” land. It is not only been re-purposed for agriculture, but helped make local, high-quality produce accessible to all residents of Burlington through a CSA-like program where locals pick up their weekly bundles at various sites around the city.
The scale of these efforts are still small, but historically, we have seen that local food production can grow quickly when needed. During World War II, Americans planted Victory Gardens and produced 40% of the vegetables grown in the US.3 When food prices spiked in 2008, many Caribbean countries invested in local agriculture to reduce reliance on imported food. Today Antigua and Barbuda produce nearly half of their own food, up from 20% in 2009.5