FoodHub: Where food people connect

Publish Date: Winter 2010

Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest right now there is a food buyer trying to find the perfect parsnip and a rancher looking for a home for his grass-fed beef. Luckily for both, a new social venture from the nonprofit Ecotrust should make it easier for food buyers and sellers to find eachother, connect and do business.

FoodHub (http://food-hub.org) is a recently launched online directory and marketplace designed specifically to connect wholesale food buyers and sellers. Larger institutional purchasers such as public schools, colleges, hospitals and grocery stores are beginning to assign geographic preference to their purchasing criteria, right next to cost, quality, quantity, and delivery requirements. Yet too often finding regional suppliers is like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. At the same time, farmers, ranchers and fishermen continue to struggle to find markets for their products, having not found a viable method for accessing and profiting from the burgeoning local food market. FoodHub offers a viable and effective solution for both sellers and buyers.

Food Buyers

With FoodHub, food buyers can go online and type in a product type - peaches, potatoes, lamb or wild salmon - and get a list of local farmers, ranchers orfishermen who sell those products. Because finding the right supplier can often be a time consuming process, FoodHub was designed to make the search quick and easy. The FoodHub database contains over 1,000 products and includes details such as production methods, distribution channels, packaging, geography and more so buyers can get down to the details that matter to them quickly.

Food Sellers

Food sellers can go online and create a list of caterers, food service operators, restaurants, retail grocers and others who might be interested in buying their products. With a few clicks of the computer keyboard, food sellers can both research market opportunities and promote themselves and their products to diverse food buyers. The hope is that farmers, ranchers and fishermen of all scales can spend more time running their operations instead of knocking on doors, making cold calls and offering free samples.

“FoodHub is designed to be a one-stop-shop for the chef who needs six dozen artichokes for a menu special, the baker looking for a local source for flour, or the large institutional food buyer whose purchasing power could significantly stabilize a family farm,” said Deborah Kane, vice president of Ecotrust’s Food & Farms program.

Developed using open source technology with private foundation, nonprofit and government resources, FoodHub is intended for broad use throughout the agricultural community. From those who have perfected their pitch and need a bigger soapbox to those just beginning to realize there may be a market beyond the dock or cannery, FoodHub accommodates food producers and food buyers of every scale and production type.

Maintaining an active profile within FoodHub costs $100 per year. Those who join FoodHub before January 31, 2010 will receive a $20 rebate. In addition, the Eugene Water and Electric Board will subsidize a 2010 FoodHub membership for all farmers in the McKenzie River watershed, which is eastern Lane County. Contact the FoodHub Member Services Team at 503.467.0816 or email connect@food-hub.org to check on their eligibility.

FoodHub is being offered initially in the Pacific Northwest with a specific emphasis on serving buyers and sellers in Oregon and Washington. However memberships will be accepted from neighboring states. Already ranchers in Montana have called the tool “magnificent” and food service operators in the Portland metropolitan area declare themselves to be “addicted” to FoodHub’s search and browse features.

Off to a great start, backers expect FoodHub will shorten the perceived and real distance between rural and urban communities and make it much easier to localize supply chains.

The Details:

http://food-hub.org 

  • Annual membership fee: $100, sign up before January 31, 2010 and receive a $20 rebate.
  • Taxonomy developed for: fruits, vegetables, livestock, fish, herbs and nuts (taxonomy for dairy, beverages and processed products on the way)
  • Geography covered: A special emphasis on food buyers and sellers in Oregon and Washington; memberships also accepted from neighboring states and Montana and Alaska.
  • Funding provided by: The Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Washington State Department of Agriculture along with several private foundations.
  • FoodHub is a project of Ecotrust (http://ecotrust.org)