One of the key missing elements of a local food system is all the capacities to collect food from where it is grown, store it, often process it, redistribute it, and do it all legally. A fairly new approach goes by the name FOOD HUB.
“Traditionally” (how traditional is an idea that has only been around for about 10 years +/-?) food hubs have been set up to serve rural farms. The farmers/ranchers could bring their food to the food hub, where it could be shipped to the far away city without the individual producers having to separately make the trip.
In the last year or two several groups have attempted to create an urban food hub in Tucson, so far without success. Now a diverse group is trying a more collaborative approach, starting with basic research into needs and opportunities.
Recently, representatives from the Community Food Bank (which is serving as an informal food hub already), the City of Tucson, a real estate expert and farmer, and Feeding Tucson began a process to develop a “road map” for creating a food hub network to serve local market gardeners, peri-urban farms, and other local producers.
At this early stage, it is clear that Tucson will create something that draws from the best of other efforts, but will be unique to Tucson’s special needs. A traditional approach would have a central facility that serves dozens of rural farmers/ranchers, and transports food to the distant city. We are likely to create a network of smaller hubs that are scaled to a widely spread network of small and very small local suppliers. Some of these distributed hubs would specialize in serving rural farms. Many of these distributed hubs are likely to pair up with another initiative called a Kitchen Incubator, which does for processing, what a food hub does for production.
The initial step we are working on is to do a market analysis of the needs of local producers and potential institutional buyers. Members of this Food Hub working group are now assembling surveys from other groups around the country, and building a list of local providers and buyers, so that we can test out their needs and interests, and begin to clarify what is needed to really accelerate the development of a local food system.
If you are interested in helping develop and conduct this survey, please let me know.