Food Hubs and Community-Building

Our summer intern Brenna reflects on the research she undertook while working on the Food Hub project, and the insights she gained into how food hubs can bring benefit to communities – economically, socially, and environmentally.

The Cambridge Food Hub is always looking to improve our programs and planning. So, as my main project as a summer intern, I decided to do a diligent review of the existing research on food hubs and the issues important to the CFH such as food access and sustainability. My aim was to compile a report that outlined some of the best strategies for the Hub to implement and which highlighted areas hubs have the greatest potential to make progress in. 

Improving sustainability was one of the main spheres in which hubs have been able to generate notable benefits. Food waste is a huge sustainability issue, with North America and Europe discarding up to 50% of food produced. This amounts to around £12 billion per year of lost retail value in the UK alone. Besides aiding in the economy, preventing food waste has the potential to eliminate the equivalent level of emissions as taking 20% of UK cars off the roads. Since the CFH is closely integrated into the local community, it can act as an effective educator on ways that food can be more efficiently used in the home, help producers implement practices which decrease waste in processing, and encourage retailers to pilot initiatives to reduce waste in their stores. 

It also appears that the CFH has significant capacity to generate local economic growth. For every pound of food hub demand, studies have shown £0.46 of revenue created in other industries, even when opportunity cost is taken into account. This means for every £1000 of sales, the CFH could produce an additional £460 for local businesses. Hubs also routinely improve community health, build relationships in the community, and provide other value-adding services to producers such as training and supply-chain coordination, further facilitating local economic development. 

Improving the local food supply chain is yet another area where the CFH can benefit the community. Midscale food value chains, which food hubs develop, are a great tool to bridge the gap between small or medium-sized local farms and larger retailers. This contributes to economic development and makes local, fresh food available to more consumers, which can be instrumental in addressing issues with food poverty as well. The CFH has the potential to facilitate community-building in this arena too: Hubs have been shown to increase mutual understanding of perspectives, capacities, and needs between stakeholders, and act as a forum for open dialogues between groups about issues in the local food system which affect everyone.

Food access is yet another issue that the CFH has the capacity to help ameliorate. In one promising case study from New York, local hubs were able to provide thousands of pounds of fresh produce to underserved communities, and their nutrition and cooking education reached over 5000 community-members. Another inquiry found that community leaders in low-income areas often identify food hub-type organisations as being a promising solution to many food inequity issues. Beyond our actual operations, the CFH can also encourage our partners to implement access-oriented initiatives like beginning to donate leftover foodstuffs to programs like Foodcycle, who do great work on food poverty. Through the connectivity that food hubs build in their areas, they also are positioned to address more fundamental problems in the food distribution system that create food inequity to begin with, which is another possible benefit that the CFH could provide to Cambridge. Community-building comes into play again here, as access work can bring new organisations and individuals into the sustainable-food movement, create and sustain partnerships rooted in the lived experience of community residents, connect disparate groups, and create networks that can provide resources, human capital, and technical assistance, which produces the potential for mutual reinforcement and escalating progress. 

Overall, this exploration of current literature demonstrated that by employing the right strategies the CFH can contribute to the Cambridge community in a myriad of ways, facilitating long-term advancements and community development.

Featured photo shows Brenna at the opening of 68 Market Street, a new restaurant in Ely with a focus on sustainability and local produce.

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