Food Hubs

Food Hubs are sprouting up all over North America, in large and small communities, some with physical facilities and others virtual.

Participants in the Local & Sustainable Food Systems Network are also among the actors in the food hubs realm. A Food Hubs Working Group was formed in early 2014 to bring together these actors and to launch a formal mechanism to exchange information and idenfity opportunities for collaboration and mutual support across Canada. Our first meeting was held January 2014 with subsequent meetings every two months on the third wednesday of the month.

The next Food Hubs Working Group teleconference will be held on June 18th, 2PM Atlantic / 10AM Pacific. To join the Working Group or sign up for the teleconference, sign up here. (Please note that the May meeting was postponed to June.)

Between teleconferences, we can continue the discussion below.  How do you think that food hubs can manage an intersection between economic viability for food producers and justice for workers and eaters? Please share your thoughts on this and other topics below.

Teleconference notes:  January 15th 2014; March 19th 2014.

Hello LSFSN community,

We are excited to attend the National Good Food Network’s Food Hub Collaboration conference in North Carolina from March 26th to 28th. Our attendance will help us further progress our regional value chain development work we’ve been developing through support from McConnell Foundation. The conference will provide opportunities for sharing ideas and lessons learned, participating in workshops, and learning from panel discussions. All of this will be valuable in assisting us as we further our business planning on corporate structure, financing, marketing, and logistics.

The Ecology Action Centre (EAC) is a non-profit registered charity. Since 1971, the EAC has been working at scales ranging from local to international in promoting socio-ecological health and sustainability. The EAC’s Marine Program is committed to conserving and protecting marine ecosystems, maintaining sustainable fisheries, and promoting vibrant coastal communities.

Our seafood value chain development work has taken us from identification to valuation and to project implementation. With funding support from the McConnell Foundation’s Regional Value Chain Program, the EAC prepared a report entitled Valuing our Fisheries – Breaking Nova Scotia’s Commodity Curse (http://www.ecologyaction.ca/files/images-documents/file/Marine/Valuing%2...). In October 2013, we hosted a two-day workshop in Halifax entitled “Creating a regional Value Chain for Atlantic Canada’s Sustainable Fisheries” which brought together value chain partners from both the supply and demand side of the seafood value chain to explore the potential for value chain development. After two days of facilitated discussion we identified that both the supply of and demand for Atlantic Canada’s sustainable seafood exist, but we lack the differentiation and branding of the products and the aggregation and distribution networks to connect them to key markets.

Participants, including fishermen and fishing association representatives, agreed that food hubs are a viable solution to bridging these gaps and should be pursued in Atlantic Canada. Establishing a seafood hub comprised of fishermen would allow them to become price setters, rather than price takers. We’ve also done capacity mapping, and have populated an interactive mapping system to identify locations of ports, processing facilities, and farmers markets. The mapping process demonstrates that much of the required infrastructure is already in place to take this project from concept to practical business.

The EAC is sending two members of our Marine Program to the conference. Dave Adler is the project lead on our value chain development work, as well as playing a lead role organizing and facilitating the Sustainable Seafood Value Chain workshop we hosted in Halifax last fall. He holds an Executive MBA from the Sobey School of Business, and is heading up our business planning activities. Justin Cantafio is the Sustainable Fisheries Campaigner at the EAC, and is an active member of the value chain development team. His work in institutional procurement and distribution solutions will form an essential part of our business planning. He is also a prolific note taker, and is excited to capture and share lessons learned at the conference with other members of FSC’s Local and Sustainable Food Systems Network.

The issues we’ve been working on are based on our fisheries; one of the oldest and most important food systems in the Atlantic Provinces. The issues include

• Currently, small-scale Atlantic fisheries remain largely outside of the realms of direct marketing, food security, or sustainability.

• The region lacks a large-scale seafood value chain organized around sustainability and regionalism.

• The majority of the seafood landed in the Atlantic Provinces is sold to the international market while at the same time the majority of the fish consumed in the region is imported from the international market.

• Currently, small-scale sustainable fishermen do not have the resources to get their product to markets that demand them, and are forced to sell their fish in the bulk commodity market, receiving low prices for their higher quality product.

• There is a lack of a unified distribution network that connects geographically disparate fishing communities with the markets that seek sustainable, traceable seafood.

We are looking forward to further developing our Sustainable Seafood Hub model. The seafood hub will be a hybrid virtual and physical space to connect small-scale and sustainable fisheries with key markets, ensuring transparency and traceability throughout the value chain. The hub will assist in aggregating the supply of sustainably caught seafood which is presently landed in ports throughout the Atlantic Provinces. The hub will also serve as a distribution confluence, optimizing the existing transportation capacity in the region by linking fishers, processors, and distributors. The distributed and often isolated nature of coastal communities in the Atlantic region, coupled with variability of volume and composition of fisheries landings, requires an integrated distribution network that allows for the aggregation of catches. A sustainable seafood hub will divert sustainably caught seafood away from the bulk commodity export market, promoting market distinguishability and ensuring a fair price for both fisher and consumer.

The conference will also serve as an initial meeting for the EAC and Red Tomato, a highly successful aggregation and distribution hub that will be providing us with consulting and coaching thanks to McConnell Foundation’s coaching grant. At the conference, Laura Edwards-Orr (Director of Resource Development), Angel Mendez (Director of Operations) and Lesley Sykes (Product and Account Manager) will be presenting a panel on Red Tomato’s non-asset based distribution model, which is similar to what we envision for the sustainable seafood hub in Atlantic Canada. They will also be acting as ‘content experts’ in the operational planning session to be held as part of the conference. After the conference we will work with Red Tomato over a course of twelve months, beginning with a site visit to their operation in Massachusetts. We will benefit from engaging with Red Tomato’s consulting experts by visiting their operation in person during their peak season. We will also benefit from ongoing phone consultations, project support and coordination, and a final project summary report.

The key questions and challenges we would like to address at the conference and by our coaches include the following:

• Learning about successful food hub business models, and how this can be applied to our hub to make it a sustainable enterprise.

• Learning from successful food hubs’ marketing and branding experiences, and how we can incorporate our workshop findings (i.e. participants suggested a “fair fish” approach to branding) into our hub.

• How do successful food hubs deal with seasonality and variability with wholesalers who may have strict product and volume requirements?

• Are there food safety concerns involved in transporting different types of food (i.e. poultry with produce, for example)?

• What corporate structure makes sense for our food-hub, and what staffing and advisory roles make sense?

• How can we integrate the seafood hub concept with the broader terrestrial food movement?

• Learning about our coach organization’s powerful software program that links producers with distributors to aggregate both supply and optimize transportation.

As we gear up to leave for the conference, we would appreciate any questions or concerns that you or your organization would like to have answered, or topics you would like further explored at the conference on our behalf. We look forward to hearing from you, and sharing the knowledge we learn with the community. Please feel free to contact us via email at jcantafio@ecologyaction.ca or info@offthehookcsf.ca.

Warm regards,

Justin Cantafio
Sustainable Fisheries Campaigner

Dave Adler
Community Supported Fisheries Coordinator
- See more at: http://foodsecurecanada.org/resources-news/blogs-discussions/ecology-act...

Our note and highlights from the National Good Food Network conference in Raleigh, North Carolina (March 25th to 28th, 2014) can be found here:

http://foodsecurecanada.org/resources-news/blogs-discussions/ecology-act...

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