Food hubs are engaged in a diverse range of activities in the food system, from managing the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of local food to addressing a broad range of social, economic, and ecological concerns. While most food hubs are responding to some key elements within the food supply chain, many address issues that go well beyond food. Insights from a roundtable discussion among scholars and practitioners from Australia, Canada, and the United States are shared in a Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (JAFSCD) paper entitled “Building Sustainable Food Systems through Food Hubs: Practitioner and Academic Perspectives.” The roundtable was held during the 2017 annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers.

KEY FINDINGS

  • There is no single definition for food hubs.
  • The different goals and objectives exist on a continuum that describes pathways to change, from enhancing food supply chains to challenging the negative outcomes of the dominant food system through social and ecological justice.
  • The tensions that emerge between and within food hubs and the mainstream food system are often productive, helping food hubs to see new ways of being food hubs.

SOURCE DETAILS

Based on: “Building Sustainable Food Systems through Food Hubs: Practitioner and Academic Perspectives” in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, volume 8, issue 2 (summer 2018), advance online publication.

Date published: June 1, 2018

Lead Author: Charles Z. Levkoe

Co-authors: Colleen Hammelman, Luke Craven, Gavin Dandy, Jeff Farbman, James Harrison, and Phil Mount

Affiliations: Lakehead University (Levkoe), University of North Carolina Charlotte (Hammelman), The University of New South Wales (Craven), Everdale; The SEED Community Food Hub; University of Guelph; and Fleming College (Dandy), Wallace Center at Winrock International (Farbman), The Food Project (Harrison), and Wilfrid Laurier University (Mount)

Author contact: Charles Z. Levkoe: clevkoe@lakeheadu.ca

Keywords: Academic, Food Movements, Food Systems, Practitioner, Social Justice, Sustainability

Permanent link to abstract and full PDF: https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2018.082.008

Publisher: Lyson Center for Civic Agriculture and Food Systems, Ithaca, New York

KEY LESSONS FROM THE ROUNDTABLE

Food hubs often struggle with complex logistics and accounting systems that can accommodate the diverse needs and capacities of suppliers and consumers and adapting these systems to their own needs. A commons-based peer production platform for hub technology could provide adaptable solutions that build on previous experiences shared by others—without having to repeat their mistakes.

There is a need to fund the social and community-based services provided by food hubs. A supply chain coordinator captures the many functions performed by those who facilitate food hub work. These functions, including matchmaker, educator, relationship-builder, policy thought-leader, and catalyst, are not easily reflected on a balance sheet. Investment in these functions will produce long-term economic and community development benefits. Academics and practitioners working together must find a way to clearly communicate the value of investment in the many functions performed by supply chain coordinators.

While research on food hubs has grown dramatically as the field has grown, many important areas for future research were identified during the roundtable. These included the need to better understand primary drivers for food hubs, food hub viability and scale, food safety, food hub responses to market signals, and the effects on community revitalization. Academics and practitioners can work together to convey the interconnected nature of these problems and solutions to policy-makers. Scholars can make valuable contributions to this work by facilitating connections and research.

Another critical area of further research centers around food systems as economic development. These include quantitative studies (e.g., exploring job creation, economic multipliers of a local food system, increases in farm viability) and qualitative measures relating both to the attractiveness of the area for non-geographically bound operations (e.g., technology) and to the impacts of a thriving local food system on quality of life.

STUDY BACKGROUND

This paper brings together the experiences of scholars and practitioners to share the results of sustained food hub research with the practical experiences of food hub operations and advocacy. The discussion presents a food hub continuum that describes different pathways to effect change, from enhancing food supply chains to challenging the negative outcomes of the dominant food system through a social and ecological justice approach. While the mission of particular food hubs may be aligned with one end of the continuum, they are often pulled in different directions by competing economic and social forces. This perspective problematizes typical descriptions by recognizing different goals and objectives as well as resulting opportunities, challenges, and innovations. While the authors do not suggest one end of the continuum is more important than the other, their analysis identifies a series of productive tensions that emerge. The discussion is structured around four central themes from the collaborative conversation: (1) descriptions of food hubs; (2) differing objectives; (3) navigating success; and (4) encountering barriers.

Bringing together the knowledge and experiences of scholars and practitioners can make an important contribution to understanding factors that contribute to a food hub’s impact. This paper, and the roundtable from which it emerged, bring these different perspectives into conversation to better understand ways in which academic research can contribute to addressing food hub challenges, in which practitioners can lend insights to gaps in the literature, and in which new avenues for academic-practitioner collaboration can be identified. This contribution is significant for bridging the overlapping conversation between scholarship and practice to ultimately better inform food hub development.

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