The local food movement is fueling the growth of food hubs such as the one at Davenport’s Freight House, growing to about 250 across the country.
“Food hubs are a national phenomenon,” said Craig Chase of Iowa State’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
Younger farmers, not needing as much land and capital to get started, are getting involved, hoping to provide their products to local markets, said Chase, the Leopold Center’s marketing food systems program leader. Food hubs help connect them to buyers, such as grocery stores and restaurants.
Often, food hubs serve as an aggregator, bringing producers together to fill large orders for a buyer, he said.
“Most institutional buyers I hear from would rather hear from one buyer, have one vendor name than with 12 farmers,” Chase said. “That way you can have one truck in, schedule an arrival and have one invoice.”
The Quad-Cities Food Hub will provide an aggregation service called a virtual marketplace starting this summer, as well as offering a local foods market and community kitchen as a business incubator. It will be unique to food hubs because of the market store and community kitchen, Chase said.
Because of their population densities, areas such as the Quad-Cities are where the demand is, said David Swenson, an Iowa State University economist. Iowa counties such as Cedar and Muscatine along with Scott County and Illinois counties such as Henry and Mercer along with Rock Island County would fall into a zone of profitability around the Quad-Cities Food Hub.
“Mathematics say the people closest by are going to be more successful than farther away,” he said.
Barb Pethoud provides baked goods, jams and jellies from Barb’s Garden & Pantry to Hy-Vees from Sycamore, Ill., to West Des Moines, while also selling at farmers markets from Naperville to Des Moines during the summer.
She and her husband, Steve, have seen their local food business grow out of a basement kitchen to a small building in Park View. They continue to look for more farmers markets and stores to sell their products. Their products are at the Quad-Cities Food Hub market.
“There are plenty of paths to go down,” she said. “You just have to find them.”