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October 25, 2013 / Christian Clansky

Food Hubs 101 teach stakeholders about food hubs

By Lindsay Smith
Consultant, Washington Regional Convergence Partnership

When Haile Johnston and his wife, Tatiana Garcia-Granados, moved to the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in Philadelphia ten years ago, they first began using food to work with socially disadvantaged youth in their neighborhood as a metaphor for healthy-decision making. Realizing that learning how to find, grow, and prepare affordable healthy food can be a long term project, they started another venture with the hope of making additional impact on their community’s near term well-being. They founded Common Market, a nonprofit food hub connecting communities across the Mid Atlantic region to sustainable, locally grown farm food.

The USDA defines a regional food hub as a “business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.” Today, with a diverse staff of 18 employees, Common Market does just this, working with 82 farmers adhering to a specific-set of environmentally-responsible production standards and 200 customers. They are further proof of the power of social enterprise to make a positive impact on urban and rural communities.

At the Food Hubs 101 event earlier this week, Haile shared this story on a panel that featured accomplished peers from institutions like DC Central Kitchen , the Local Food Hub (Charlottesville, VA), and the Rural Coalition.  The event brought together about 70 funders, government representatives, existing and emerging food hubs, policy experts, and advocates from the Greater Washington region.

Haile’s was just one of many experiences shared on developing food hubs of all kinds in or near the Greater Washington region. A featured presentation from the USDA and the Wallace Center at Winrock International confirmed that there has been an explosive amount of growth in these organizations and that more are under development to satisfy growing demand for local food. They argued that food hubs are critical to improving equity within the food system for participating small and mid-sized farmers who have faced increasing challenges to accessing wholesale markets in recent decades. They also shared data from a national bench-marking survey which confirmed that food hubs are helping to increase sales from these farms.

Haile’s parting words were that funders can play all kinds of roles in social enterprises such as nonprofit or cooperative food hubs through grantmaking, program related investments (PRIs), loan guarantees, and bringing in additional partners such as CDFIs. A first key first step in most cases, however, is getting the social enterprise to where it’s ready for investment. In other words, funders can play a critical role early in the organization’s development by investing in capacity-building.

The convening was hosted by the Washington Regional Convergence Partnership (WRCP), a group of grantmakers committed to building a more equitable food system in the region based out of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers (WRAG). Early next year, the group looks forward to hosting a WRAG wide event on how investment in the regional food system makes sense for funders interested in making meaningful impacts on health, workforce and community development, the environment, and more. For more information about the WRCP, please contact Lindsay Smith.

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