Food Hubs and Wholesale Market Development

Author: Matthew Buck, Coordinator, Oregon Community Food Systems Network

Publish Date: Spring 2017

A “Wholesale Market Development” tour hosted by the OregonCommunity Food Systems Network identified both opportunities and challenges for farmers trying to scale from direct to wholesale markets, and for distributors and retailers trying to source more local products.

Local organizers for the tour included THRIVE and Rogue Valley Farm to School. Support for the event came from Meyer Memorial Trust and the Corvallis Environmental Center.

Tour stops included two local farms (Fry Family Farm and Wandering Roots Farm), two handling facilities (Fry Family Farm Food Hub and Naumes, Inc.) and one retail store (Cartwright’s Valley Meat Company).

The Fry Family Farm Food Hub is a recently completed a $1.2M project to develop an on-farm produce-washing and sorting line, cooler and freezer space, loading dock, commercial kitchen, and retail space. Family members Ashley and Amber Fry stressed the importance of planning to determine the appropriate design, capacities, and scale of the facility to ensure full utilization.

Panel discussions were also held with wholesale distributors (Charlie’s Produce, Organically Grown Company, and Rogue Natural Foods), retail food buyers (Ashland Food Co-op, Natural Grocers, and Ray’s Marketplace), and farmers exploring wholesale markets (Blue Fox Farms, Rainshadow Organics, and Shasta View Inc.).

Speakers on the distributor and retail panels affirmed that there is growing consumer demand for local products. It can be challenging finding the right fit though both for buyers and farm suppliers. As Chris Jagger of Blue Fox Farms said, “With wholesale, you have to bring your ‘A Game.’”

Issues of concern raised by panelists included the quality of produce, consistent supply, the importance of cosmetic appearance and the challenge of finding value for seconds and thirds, and meeting requirements for food safety.

Farmers noted the importance of telling their story and using websites and social media to enable a connection with the end buyer even with distribution.

Both farmers and food processors also called out increasing challenges meeting labor needs.

Tracy Harding of Rogue Valley Farm to School, and a recent graduate of the Food Hub Management certificate program at the University of Vermont, put together the following list:

Resources for people interested in learning more about food hubs:

• The Role of Food Hubs in Local Food Marketing

• Running a Food Hub: Lessons Learned from the Field

• Running a Food Hub: A Business Operations Guide

• Food Hubs - Solving Local: Small-Farm Aggregators Scale Up With Larger Buyers Hubs -Solving Local.pdf

• USDA Food Value Chains Creating Shared Value to Enhance Marketing Success Food Value Chains Creating Shared Value to Enhance Marketing Success.pdf

• Fresh Connections: The Pilot Season of a Rural Food Hub

• Best Practices Guidebook: Food Hub Vendor Manual Food-Hub-Vendor-ManualAgdex-843-2.pdf 

• Best Practices Guidebook: Food Hub Grower Manual

• Sacramento Region Food Hub Feasibility Analysis

• Building Successful Food Hubs: A Business Planning Guide for Aggregating and Processing Local Food in Illinois

• Food-Hub-Business-Assessment-Toolkit

• Running a Food Hub: Assessing Financial Viability 77FoodHubsVol3.pdf

Learn more about the Oregon Community Food Systems Network at http://ocfsn.netpport