Iowa’s food hub managers created the Iowa Food Hub Managers Working Group (FHMWG) in mid-2015. The group convenes virtually every other week to address operating challenges, and opportunities holds quarterly meetings led by members to address operating challenges and needs for food hub businesses in Iowa. Together, group members are exploring how they can work together to:
- improve their technical knowledge of aggregation and distribution systems
- source more local products
- leverage funding
- build partnerships
- grow opportunities for farmers
Why Food Hubs?
According to USDA’s definition, a food hub is “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.” In other words, food hubs are working to get more local farm products from farm to table in more ways.
Their work is usually driven by the desire to create more opportunities for small and mid-sized farmers. They also want to expand the number of consumers who can access local food. In the United States, almost half of the food we eat is eaten away from home. That means food service and wholesale are critical components to localizing the food system. Farmers in Iowa sold more than $13 million in local food to wholesale and intermediated markets in 2013. But this only begins to scratch the surface of what’s possible.
How hubs help:
Food hubs can help farmers access new markets, including wholesale markets. They enable farmers to take advantage of economies of scale through aggregated packing systems, shared marketing, and more efficient use of trucks and equipment. They can assist with production scheduling and meeting customer requirements.
To operate in the competitive landscape of food wholesale, most food hubs end up providing these services at a slim profit margin. Hub managers have to be skilled and efficient to pay farmers a fair price while keeping their food hub running.
The relationships built through the group have spurred some exciting projects including:
- Iowa Hub to Hub Network
- Iowa Local Food for Schools (LFS)
- Iowa Local Food Purchasing Assistance Program (LFPA)
How important are food hubs in Iowa?
Schools heavily relied on food hubs to source local foods for the Local Produce and Protein Program (LFPP) in 2020. Of the $225,000 reimbursed to schools for local food purchases, 51 percent was spent at food hubs and 51 percent (41 of 80) of grantees were served by food hubs. Food hubs facilitated $834,000 in local food purchases during Round 1 of the Local Food for Schools grants (LFS 2022-23) and $886,000 during Round 2 of LFS (2023-24).
View resources on food hubs under Distribution & Markets.
View the Iowa Food Hub Directory to find food hubs in Iowa or to list your food hub on our site.
For more information on food hubs or local food procurement, contact:
Teresa Wiemerslage, Education Extension Specialist
ph. (563) 794-0599