The popularity of locally-grown and raised food in Kansas City continues to grow. But local food producers often have a hard time selling to restaurants, grocery stories and institutions like schools and hospitals. Local farmers often don’t have the volume or variety to compete with larger farms and food distributors. Even for those institutions willing to pay more for locally-sourced food, the infrastructure is lacking.
On KCUR’s news program KC Currents, we discussed existing and potential food hubs in and around Kansas City with Emily Lucas, a planner at BNIM and local project coordinator for the Greater KC Food Hub Working Group, and Katie Nixon, a small farms specialist at Lincoln University Cooperative Extension.
Nixon and her husband grow fruits and vegetables and raise poultry at Green Gate Family Farm in Wheatland, Mo. She said small farmers like herself are looking to expand beyond farmer’s markets, but often need help.
“For us it’s about getting our product to market,” Nixon said. "And not having to spend so much time on the marketing aspect of things so we can grow more food.”
Food hubs can pick up food from a number of farmers and centralize distribution, ensuring volume and variety for the buyers. They can also help small farmers get food safety certification and the training necessary to sell to larger institutions.
Existing and potential food hubs
There are some existing food hubs in Kansas City, according to Emily Lucas:
Good-Natured Family Farms purchases from 150 farmers in the region, and sells through Ball’s Food Stores (which are known as Hen Houses and Ball’s Price Choppers.) C&C Produce is a traditional distributor that’s also scaling up its local food program. Some food hubs around the country are private businesses, others are non-profits or have a cooperative structure.
There’s a growing interest in creating more food hubs here in Kansas City, Lucas said. That’s why the Greater KC Food Hub Working Group started a feasibility study to determine the viability of a larger, regional hub. (The Douglas County Food Policy Council is also looking into food hubs, and has teamed up with the Kansas City group on the feasibility study.)
Surveys and meetings with producers and buyers will help determine the needs for a new hub, or whether existing hubs can be “networked” together. A new hub could cover a radius of 250 miles, and include regional packing facilities linked by software and/or trucking infrastructure, and possibly some light food processing (like peeling and chopping butternut squash).
Institutions looking to go local
One of the main goals is to serve larger institutions like schools and hospitals, where Lucas said there’s a growing interest in local food.
“I think it’s becoming more and more a part of their mission that they want to support the local economy, the local producers and get food that’s coming through a values-based supply chain,” Lucas said.
These institutions, however, often have limitations on how much they can spend on food. Farmers want to receive what they consider a fair price for their labor.
By July, Lucas expects to have results and recommendations from the feasibility study. If the partners decide to move forward with a new food hub, the earliest it would likely start up would be in 2015.
- Emily Lucas, local project coordinator for the Greater KC Food Hub Working Group , and planner at BNIM, an architecture and planning firm
- Katie Nixon, specialist with Lincoln University Cooperative Extension's Small Farms Program, and small farmer at Green Gate Family Farm in Wheatland, Mo.