We've been getting this question a lot from co-op members, farmers, and the interested public over the past few months. It's usually been accompanied by "why are you building one? What's in it for you?" These are excellent questions, so we thought we'd address them here.
FOOD HUBS, GENERALLY
Simply, a Food Hub is a catch-all term for an economic model that seeks to aggregate food products from one region and provide a central channel (or hub) through which they are sold to regional buyers. It can look very different depending on the model. Some Food Hubs are producer co-ops, some are buyers' co-ops, some are for-profit businesses, some are non-profit. Some purchase inventory and re-sell it, and some function on a consignment basis.
Usually Food Hubs exist for the sheer reason of getting locally grown, small and medium scale (and usually more ecologically and socially sustainable) agriculture a larger piece of the food supply chain pie, but they also can have social goals as well, from increasing good food access to regional residents, to supporting and encouraging policy that supports food access, and fosters social enterprise and rural-urban economic development.
OUR FOOD HUB
Our Food Hub is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder co-operative Food Hub. This means that we exist to serve not just farmers, and not just consumers, but both, in tandem. Our reason for existing is to create a more participatory, more adaptive, more equitable food system in Manitoba.
The model we're taking for this 2020 pilot year is a wholesale consignment model, where Producer Members of our Co-op can become Food Hub suppliers, and post their products and inventory for sale through an online platform. That platform will be accessible to wholesale buyers, such as foodservice and grocery retailers. Fireweed Food Hub will not technically own the product, but provide a central conduit through which an array of buyers can source beautiful, Manitoba-grown produce in one central place.
We'll then provide marketing, sales, advertising, customer support and delivery, allowing farmers to spend less time delivering and contacting buyers, and allowing buyers to spend less time contacting individual farmers. Our hope is that it will be a benefit for all sides!
SO WHAT'S IN IT FOR ALL OF US?
The reason we want to build a Food Hub in Manitoba is simple: we want more of the food we eat to be produced here. Why? Shorter supply chains mean more transparency and more participation. We have seen, even from COVID-19, the resulting destabilization in global supply chains causing price increases, shortages, and fluctuations. Not to mention how these global supply chains that supply so much of our food are opaque, disguising a lot of labour abuses and negative environmental impacts. A Food Hub is just one part of building a local economy that is transparent, traceable, equitable, and resilient. We think that's something worth working towards.
BUT YOU'RE NOT SELLING TO INDIVIDUAL HOME BUYERS?
No, and this is for several reasons. We love supporting households purchasing local food from our Producer Members, and absolutely support this through our Farmers' Market. But we made the conscious decision to set our Food Hub's sights a bit farther up the supply chain, aiming to get more local food into our grocery stores and restaurants.
Over the longer term, we hope that this will help grow the overall market demand for locally produced food and allow farms to focus more on farming, and less on direct marketing. It can help existing farms scale up to find new levels of efficiency, and possibly help more small farmers enter the market. It's a longer term goal, but we believe that taking a systems-approach will help get more good food to more Manitoban households over the long run.
As our pilot year goes on, we will be sure to provide a directory of our Food Hub customers, so you can choose to dine or shop at the businesses who support our Producer Members by buying through Fireweed Food Hub. And of course, in the meantime, individual households can still access great locally grown foods at our South Osborne Farmers' Market and other wonderful farmers' markets this season!
WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
We depend on our co-op members to provide direction and input for the future of our activities and projects. This Food Hub is just one part. If you are interested in local food, and want to get involved to have your say, become a co-op member today.
If you're a farmer or food producer who is interested in becoming a Food Hub Supplier, or if you're a business owner interested in purchasing from us once we get up and running in the next couple of weeks, please get in touch:
Email our Food Hub Coordinator Anna at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay well, friends!