We have been talking to Kirsten from the Victoria Eco Innovation Lab for over six months about Food Hubs before I came to Oz.
In the UK there has been limited discussion about what ta Food Hub is and their role in helping small businesses and communities wrestle back some control of the food system. The term is more common in the US, but groups like SUSTAIN have looked to see if they: could address the problems of distribution from small-scale suppliers to small outlets and individual customers.
When we began our Skype discussions with VIEL, I think we all had visions of a warehouse with raw materials coming from a range of farmers resulting in artisan products and fresh local produce being sold to a diverse range of customers. Inside the Hub a range of activities and facilities 'added value' to the food and resulted in growers selling more directly to customers, artisan enterprenuers supported and customers having a one-stop-shop for local and ethical food.
Or as SUSTAIN can articulate better: a hub is an intermediary which, by pooling together producers or consumers, adds value to the exchange of goods and promotes the development of a local supply chain. This added value may be gained through economies of scale, social value, educational work or other services. In other words, the pure function of distribution is only one element of the hub.
The initial idea behind VEIL's South East Food Hub concept was a warehouse, a drive-in facility for all those suburban commuters, (now living in new homes that until recently was prime farmland), who have very limited choice about where they buy their food. As Kirsten has written: We see Food Hubs as “innovative, strategic [opportunistic] and adaptive responses to the incessant pressures of the everyday”
And yesterday (20th Nov) I was lucky enough to join the SE Food Hub meeting in Casey to discuss the concept's development. Although the physical reality of the Hub is still evolving, the group of farmers, wholesalers and distributors who have come together are well on their way to collectively working to over come distribution problems and grow new markets.
More on the SE Food Hub's progress in a later blog post.