Another cool project by students at the WPI Center for Sustainable Food Systems focused on building a regional food hub in Southern New Hampshire. I had heard of food hubs in the past, but didn’t give them too much thought (this was especially obtuse of me considering that I worked with the people behind the Intevale Food Hub last summer). Turns out, food hubs are a really cool way for small-scale diversified farmers to build their markets.
One of the problems facing small-scale farmers is that it can often be difficult for them to find markets outside of CSAs or farmers markets, which constrains them to a relatively small consumer base. The small scale of their operations also prevents them from accessing institutional markets, like nursing homes or schools. These larger markets need a larger-scale food supply that can ensure their ability to feed large numbers of consumers. These markets tend to be more stable, however, as they are reliable buyers over long periods of time.
Food hubs act as a middleman to bridge that gap: they aggregate products from several small farms in one area and then sell those products to larger markets. The aggregate nature of food hubs enables them to provide the consistency that these larger markets needs, and can also act as a low-commitment CSA for beginning farmers. Instead of having to provide large amounts of food for weekly CSA pickups, a number of beginning farmers can contribute smaller amounts of their produce to a food hub CSA.
Food hubs are a way for small farmers to gain broader access to markets, and this particular project focused on building a physical structure for this farmer. It was a wonderful application of engineering knowledge towards food system problems! I had no idea that food hubs served this purpose, but what a great way to increase farmers’ access to markets!