Alex Linkow of Fair Food Network recently visited Food Sol’s Community Table, a weekly gathering of diverse minds who connect, resource, and support one another around food and food entrepreneurship.
He came to speak on food-system investing, which he did brilliantly. But conversation quickly veered toward the inevitable questions on food systems themselves: who’s doing what, who’s doing it well, and what characterizes a lasting, scalable innovation?
There are no food-system experts, but those leaning into the future have discernibly shifted focus off particular threads onto how each thread fits into the wider web.
Many lead organizations tracing the web have arrived at the food hub.
What’s a food hub? As with many things in food-system speak, the definition is still shaking out. But loosely, a food hub is the nucleus of a food system. In an industrial food system model, it would be the distribution center. In an alternative food system, it’s the place to which many independent farmers, growers and artisans deposit product – and from which retailers, restaurants and consumers collect product.
Food hubs are hot. Investors are looking at them. Government and institutions are looking at them. Communities, municipalities, and corporations are looking at them. But they are also only recently popularized in terms of food system studies. And as young constructs, they need to be studied.
On Tuesday, Wallace Center and its National Good Food Network unveiled Study Hubs.
“There are more than 200 known food hubs across the country,” John Fisk, Director of Wallace Center told me. “Our goal with this program is to pinpoint the strongest models out there for meeting certain key needs – and to learn from them.”
“From discovery phase, we invited 50 hubs to apply to the program. Thirty responded – and we selected 9.”
The nine selected run the gamut in terms of scope, size, economic viability, scalability, mission, and geography. Closest to home is Farm Fresh Rhode Island, helmed by the incomparable Noah Fulmer – which has been a leader for years in building a strong local food system and increasing healthy fresh food access across income levels.
“Study Hubs will receive support on business planning, technical assistance, and access to investors. We want to be on the ground with what works – and support it.”
John added, “This is a two-year process. We will be working closely with each hub and its stakeholders. We have to dive deep if we’re going to get at what works across mission, model, and market contexts.”
Action is key. But sometimes reflection is just as key.
To create something new or improved, you first have to digest what’s out there now.
To follow the Study Hubs – subscribe for updates from National Good Food Network.