Written by Sally Miller, Regional Food Hub Expansion Project Manager, Hannah Renglich, LOFC Network Animator, and LOFC Network Grant-Writing Committee
The Regional Food Hub Expansion project provides capacity building, business planning, regional local food forums and collaboration among four regional food hubs and associated network partners and stakeholders. The four food hubs are in various stages of development by existing local food co-ops. Funding from the Local Food Fund, Carrot Cache, The Co-operators, LOFC and ONFC is providing the financial support to develop and expand the regional food hubs.
The outcomes for the projects include templates for food hub development, and online resources (toolkits, recordings, etc.) for food hubs in Canada. Each region will also host a forum offering information, networking and training on food hubs.
The four co-op leads are:
a) True North Community Co-op (North)
b) Eat Local Sudbury Co-operative (Central)
c) On the Move Organics (West)
d) Ottawa Valley Food Co-operative (East)
What is a food hub?
The project of aggregating resources for small and mid-scale producers has been around for a long time. Farmers’ co-ops, which began developing in the 19th century, combine shared storage, marketing and distribution to reach customers that one farmer alone cannot afford to serve. Recently, the breakdown of mid-scale infrastructure in North America since the mid 1990’s has created significant challenges as the market for local food grows rapidly. Farmers cannot keep up with demand, or access the storage, processing distribution and marketing that they need to reach key markets or to expand production.
Food hubs have come to the fore to address these challenges, and range in services from standard wholesale services (distributing for producers) to processing and innovations in food security organizations to access local food producers. A food hub has been defined as “a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand”.
Why is this needed?
The key rationales and goals of LOFC’s Regional Food Hub Expansion project are as follows:
1. Pioneering Work
LOFC is the only Network working to support local food through co-operative enterprises. While cross-sectoral associations exist to support co-ops based on geography (i.e. provincial, national), LOFC is the first sectoral network to emerge to support food and farm co-ops in Canada. As such, ONFC has made strong partnerships in order to carry out this work by means of collaboration and has the strong support of key provincial and national organizations in the realms of co-operation and food systems. These include Sustain Ontario, The Ontario Co-op Association, the Ecological Farmers of Ontario, Nourishing Ontario, Food Secure Canada, and Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada.
2. Driving Community Economic Development
Local food development has a strong economic multiplier effect on local economies. The more times a dollar circulates within a defined the region and the more quickly it circulates, the more income, wealth and jobs it creates (Shuman and Hoffer, 2007). For example, in Temiskaming it was found that for every dollar of farm gate sales, $2.80 to $3.30 is generated in the wider local economy (Shuman, 2010). A US-based food co-op economic impact study conducted by the National Cooperative Grocers Association revealed that for every $1,000 a shopper spends at their local food co-op, $1,604 in economic activity is generated in their local economy—$239 more than if they had spent that same $1,000 at a conventional grocer (2012).
3. Increasing Local Food Access in Local Communities
Food hub development creates a strong flow-through mechanism deeply regionally rooted in order to maintain the integrity of local foods by minimizing time and distance spent in transit. Whereas major urban centres can behave as local food vacuums for producer-rich rural peripheries, this project will encourage the local circulation of local food within local communities. By linking local storage, distribution and processing, food hubs can prevent excess food miles and create a more direct journey as local foods make their way to the local table.
In a study commissioned by the National Cooperative Grocers Association in the US, food co-ops were found to have significantly stronger local impact as compared to privately owned grocery stores: “Where conventional grocers work with an average of 65 local farmers and food producers, food co-ops work with an average of 157. Likewise, locally sourced products make up an average of 20 percent of co-op sales compared to 6 percent at conventional stores” (2012).
4. Supporting Ontario Farmers and Producers
As the USDA report on the “Role of Food Hubs in Local Food Marketing” states, “entry into local food markets can prove difficult for many farmers, particularly small and mid-sized farmers, with capacity constraints and the lack of distribution systems most often being the largest hurdles to overcome. Food hubs are part of a growing local food system that strengthens rural economies by lowering entry barriers and improving infrastructure to create, as well as expand, regional food markets” (Matson, Sullins, and Cook, 2013).
Strong support for local food by way of regional food hub and co-operative enterprise development shortens the distances between producers and consumers and will help to strengthen the livelihoods of Ontario farmers in four regions of the province. A 2011 report by the National Good Food Network suggests that food hub development leads to increased producer profitability and viability. As many of the co-operative enterprises within the Local Organic Food Co-ops Network engage in strong partnerships with local producers, strengthening their business capacities will enable them to deepen and expand existing relationships, while building capacity to engage with more and different producers. The by-product of increasingly professional and mutually beneficial local food transactions will be to increasingly hone the knowledge and skills of players along the local food value chain, creating commercial opportunities for new and experienced Ontario growers and producers to engage through local co-ops and the four regional food hubs.
5. Strengthening Networks, Hubs, and Communities
Food deserts and remote communities across the province are experiencing a resurgence of co-operative activity to open affordable and accessible grocery stores or to keep the last grocery store in a small town open to the community. Co-operatives across Ontario are regionally-adapted and diverse, providing resilient networks that are more able to withstand the potential shocks of economic recessions, climate change and socio-economic disruptions. The development of food hubs is a natural development from the new collaborations to improve local food systems. “A flexible, regionally based food economy reduces economic inefficiencies, environmental pollution and waste, creates more jobs and community capacity, and retains the positive benefits of economic activity in Ontario’s communities.” (Carter-Whitney and Miller, 2010).
Thanks to LOFC for this material.
2012. "Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities: Measuring the Social and Economic Impact of Food Co-ops." (National Cooperative Grocers Association).
Barham, J, Tropp, D, et al. 2012. "Regional Food Hub Resource Guide" (USDA Agricultural Marketing Service).
Carter-Whitney, M and Miller, S. 2010. “Nurturing Fruit and Vegetable Processing in Ontario.” (Metcalf Food Solutions).
Matson, J, Sullins, M, and Cook, C. 2013. "Role of Food Hubs in Local Food Marketing." (USDA Rural Development Service Report 73).
Shuman, M and Hoffer, D. 2007. “Leakage Analysis of the Martha’s Vineyard Economy: Increasing Prosperity through Greater Self-Reliance.” (Training and Development Corporation).
Shuman, M. 2010. “The Competitiveness of Local Living Economies,” in The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crisis. (Eds. Heinberg, R and Lerch, D.) Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media.
 From the National Good Food Network Food Hub Collaboration. 2013. Food Hub Benchmarking Study: Report on Findings 2013. Wallace Center Winrock International. 2013. Available at http://ngfn.org/resources/food-hubs/food-hub-knowledge.