On Friday, November 2, Food Hub Action Team members tuned in from across Minnesota to discuss, share, and collaborate past successes, challenges within their food hub enterprises, potential opportunities for the future. The Food Hub Action Team is comprised of 16 food hub founders, owners, and managers It is co-led by Jim Gehrke, Arlene Jones (Sprout Food Hub), and Beverly Dougherty (Real Food, Inc.), our November Food Charter Champion.
The Food Hub Action Team first formed only 8 months ago, but already they have discovered shared goals and learned from other statewide food hub networks. At their second meeting, they heard from food hub network folks in Iowa who, in addition to building trusting relationships to problem-solve together, are now reducing transportation costs by teaming up to pick up and distribute produce. While the primary focus of this team is hub financial sustainability, topics of this meeting also included farm to school programs, consumer demand, producer capacity, and the role of University Extension programs in advancing local food systems.
In prior research and meeting with Rich Pirog, director of The University of Michigan’s Center for Regional Food Systems, members learned of the 10 Cents a Meal program, a Michigan farm to school initiative that gives schools more funding to procure local foods for school meals. Food hubs throughout Michigan are playing a vital role in bridging the gap between small- and medium-sized farmers and schools. Members also learned of the importance of University Extension in the Michigan local food movement. Over half of Michigan Extension’s staff is dedicated to community systems.
The group also discussed common challenges and successes they’ve experienced since their last meeting. One of the most common challenges identified was matching consumer demand with producer current capacity. As a whole, members have found a large demand from customers- whether that be from schools and institutions or from CSA shares. While this is a major success, it is challenging to ensure producer capacity when consumer commitment isn’t always guaranteed. To solve this problem, members discussed supporting the diversification of growers and hosting training for growers on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and post-harvest procedures.
Finally, they discussed various challenges that could be addressed through local and state policy changes, such as grower land access, local food price margins, Farm to School programs, and Farm to Healthcare programs. Some members planned to attend the Partners to End Hunger Policy group meeting to pitch the creation of more Extension positions to work in Community Food Systems.
The group plans to meet monthly via video conference. The topic for the December meeting: food policy initiatives to help food hubs succeed in Minnesota. Interested in getting involved? Contact Jim Gehrke, group facilitator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.