Taking A More Holistic Approach to Food Hub Feasibility: Reducing Risk Through Collaborative Process

In this 3-part series, Ag Innovations is examining food hub feasibility in a non-traditional way. This series weaves together insights from a growing body of food systems research and experience in food hub development. In our first post Efficacy of Food Hubs, we shared the USDA’s current definition of a food hub, and then we called for practitioners to expand their thinking about feasibility to include a more holistic assessment to consider how food hub projects affect the entirety of a food system in a specific area. In this second post in this 3-part series, we examine how incorporating collaborative process into food hub planning development can reduce business risk.


Reducing Risk Through Collaborative Process

Food hubs are collaborative by design. The USDA Rural Development’s second report in their series Running a Food Hub: A Business Operations Guide provides a diagram of a wide variety of producer, operational, and community services that a food hub can provide – many of these are examples of collaboration in action:

  • Providing a Link between farmers and buyers
  • Give individual farmers and producers the means to market and sell their productstogether as one larger entity
  • Educate buyers about food and facilitate information flow and sharing
  • Coordinate efforts with producers in areas such as production planning and delivery logistics
  • Engage directly with their community through donations, educational programs, and health-awareness campaigns

As we learned in last month’s post, food hub feasibility assesses the financial risk and market opportunities before serious investment should occur. What’s often missing is an understanding of shared values, motivations and aspirations among key stakeholders. Have you and your stakeholders agreed openly on a shared vision, mission – openly discussed your collective values related to the business goals and impact areas related to food system change? Do the collaborators support one another or do they act in competition or opposition? Making assumptions about shared values among stakeholders when entering a business arrangement can be lethal to any operation – even with solid financial plans and marketing strategy. Don’t keep your head in the sand, openly discuss your mission and vision with your stakeholders and come to an agreement about shared values before completing your feasibility.


A Self Reflection for Practitioners

Is there synchronicity among collaborators (including farmers, funders, hub managers, key customers)? Stakeholders contribute assets to a food hub’s success. How will you bring all parties together to agree on shared values – from conceptual to operational.

Do you have a plan to regularly and consistently report the status of your collective effort with all of your collaborators?  This is important in helping your stakeholders – your staff, business partners, farmers and community advocates –  remain engaged and invested in your project.


Three Great Resources

Hot off the presses, a second report in the series, Running a Food Hub: A Business Operations Guide was just released by USDA Rural Development. This “how to” report provides in depth guidance on starting and running a food hub enterprise, including choosing an organizational structure, finding the right location, deciding on infrastructure and equipment, logistics and transportation, human resources, and risks. The report can be downloaded at here.

Wallace Center/Farm Credit Council released Counting Values: Food Hub Financial Benchmarking Study. Drawing on financial and operational data from 48 of the 300+ regional food hubs throughout the U.S., the study is intended as a business planning tool for social enterprises that combine food aggregation and distribution business services with programs that strengthen farmer capacity to supply nearby markets such as restaurants, grocery stores, schools, universities and hospitals.


It’s no secret that Ag Innovations is founded on the power of collaboration. We imagine, design, and convene powerful collaboratives that quickly develop the vision, strategies, and implementation plan to drive change. Our focus on collaboration is driven by two principles:

  1. Only a broad collaboration of participants can create the 360-degree view of complex problems that is necessary to discover systemic solutions.
  2. Social change requires collective action, which we see as the deliberate and positive collaboration of partners who realize their individual actions alone will not create systemic change.