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NC State Extension

Food Hubs

What is a food hub? The USDA working definition is, “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.”

Cost-efficient aggregation and distribution of local foods poses a major challenge to small and mid-sized producers. As the size of farms decreases, the per-unit cost of cooling, packing, and transporting product from field to end-consumer increases. Smaller farmers can compensate for these greater post-harvest costs if they sell to end markets where prices are higher, for example, directly to consumers in a farmers market setting or direct to restaurants.

As farms grow in size, they often seek market channels where the distribution costs fall to other entities, such as wholesale distribution companies. In return, prices received at the farm are lower. The scale of food-service companies and grocery wholesalers, the entities that supply 97% of the food consumed in the U.S., has trended toward consolidation and integration of entities all along the supply chain. Ever larger grocery retailers and food service companies seek relationships with large and often integrated suppliers, as this allows retailers to reduce their costs and exposure to risk. To compete, small and mid-sized growers seek to improve their production efficiencies, specialize in high-value crops, or align themselves in cooperative relationships such as multi-farm Community Supported Agriculture arrangements or food hubs.

North Carolina Resources

National Food Hub Resources

National Good Food Network Food Hub Center  – Defines ‘food hub,’ provides research and resources, and links to multiple webinars on food hubs. Through this Food Hub Center you will find information on:

  • Food Hub Benchmarking Studies – Collections of financial and operational data from food hubs.
  • Findings of the 2013 National Food Hub Survey
  • Food Hub Knowledge – Other resource documents related to food hubs.
  • Regional Food Hub Resource Guide
    “Food hub impacts on regional food systems, and the resources available to support their growth and development.”
  • Sometimes food hubs are not the correct response to address the goals of your community, and if they fail they can cause damage. STOP! Don’t Build That Hub! provides some insights into: ” Why do hubs fail? How can one determine if a hub is truly warranted in an area? If not a hub, then how can a group still make positive, market-based and social changes to the local food system?”
  • And, many other resources

Food Hub Business Assessment Toolkit 
This toolkit from Wholesome Wave provides “the tools to evaluate a food hub business’ readiness for investment. The Toolkit provides a framework for assessing the strengths and weaknesses of food hubs in the areas of business model and strategy, impact potential, market overview, marketing and sales, operations, organization and management, risk mitigation, technology and systems, and finance.” 2014

USDA  – Local Food Research & Development

North Carolina Resources

NC Local Food Infrastructure Inventory
The North Carolina Growing Together project, in collaboration with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Local Foods Flagship Program, in 2013 created a mapped inventory of businesses that serve as intermediary steps in local food supply chains. This includes food hubs, value-added processors, fresh produce wholesaler/ distributors, multi-farm CSA’s, community kitchens, incubator farms, and cold storage locations. The inventory does not include information on end retailers.

Cooperatives and Food Hubs. A presentation developed by N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Cultivat NC program, as one tool for building community engagement. tools for building community engagement. See other tools here.

Related Publications & Summaries

Primary Contact:
Rebecca Dunning
Project and Research Coordinator
Center for Environmental Farming Systems
NC Growing Together