Michigan Food Hub Network to expand under renewed grant

The MSU Center for Regional Food Systems has received a $450k continuation grant from the Kresge Foundation to expand the Michigan Food Hub Network.

Andrea Sexton, Rich PIrog


MSU Center for Regional Food Systems receives $450k grant to expand visionary network that strengthens regional food businesses and increases food access

Michigan Food Hub Network will continue to develop Food Hub viability and expand markets

August 2015 | East Lansing, Mich. – The Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems has received a $450k continuation grant from the Kresge Foundation to expand the Michigan Food Hub Network, a statewide learning community that helps food hubs become profitable while supplying healthy food to low-income communities in Michigan.

Food hubs are an emerging win-win-win food systems innovation: an aggregation and distribution business model that makes healthy local food products available to diverse markets. By marketing aggregated source-identified products, food hubs are an answer to challenges that can make it difficult for small producers and value-added food businesses to succeed. Michigan is the first state with a state-level food hub network.

“With this renewed award, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems will build on the first three years of the Michigan Food Hub Network’s unique collaboration infrastructure, which gathers food hub managers and business partners from throughout Michigan to develop strategies for developing business viability, reaching new markets and increasing food security in Michigan,” said Rich Pirog, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems Senior Associate Director. “The Center will also collaborate with neighboring states to help them learn from Michigan’s Food Hub Network model.”

Over the next three years, the project will increase buyer-seller relationships and specialized business and technical assistance, emphasizing business collaborations between food hubs and food service directors of institutions – including schools and hospitals.

“Institutional food service directors and buyers across the state continue to express great interest in purchasing Michigan foods but they face challenges in sourcing the foods they want at a local or regional level,” said Colleen Matts, Farm to Institution Specialist with MSU Center for Regional Food Systems and co-lead of the Michigan Farm to Institution Network. “Food hubs are in a position to fill that critical gap to help meet institutional demand.”

Michigan Food Hub Network – helping food hubs help small food and farm businesses

Small and mid-sized Michigan food entrepreneurs are finding that food hubs are a boon to business viability, and Michigan food hub managers use the Michigan Food Hub Network as a key resource for connecting with producers, processors, financiers, funders and other food hub managers.

“The MI Food Hub Network has been an immensely valuable resource for our food hub. With [the Network’s] support I was able to attend the University of Vermont’s Food Hub Management Certificate Program, participate in network meetings and collaborate with other Michigan food hubs in an IT feasibility study,” said Rita O’Brien, Associate Director of the Allen Market Place in Lansing. “These experiences helped us to develop a stronger business model which has set our hub on a path of success.”

Meetings throughout Michigan gather representatives from the Upper and Lower Peninsulas three times per year to build peer relationships and share lessons learned. The Network also collaborates to address regional food value chain challenges.

For Natasha Lantz, Co-Lead of the U.P. Food Exchange, these partnerships have been important. “The Michigan Food Hub Network has been invaluable in helping us establish, develop, and continue to grow our food hub in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The statewide meetings allow us to connect with other food hubs in Michigan to share resources, get new ideas, and set the groundwork to coordinate efforts. [The Network] takes the needs of our food hubs seriously and works with us to obtain resources and find solutions to common challenges. This is evidenced by attention to both farm food safety and food hub technology, two issues that are proving to be challenges to food hubs in our state.”

Expanding the network – need and opportunities

Michigan’s food hubs are well positioned to expand connections between Michigan producers and Michigan markets. Over 1.8 million Michigan residents, including an estimated 300,000 children, live in low-income communities with limited supermarket access.

“We have seen too much emphasis on getting local food into the untransparent large distribution system rather than doing the work to build a side-by-side local system that is traceable and trustable,” said a participant at the July joint meeting of the Michigan Food Hub Network and Michigan Farm to Institution Network.

Eighty-two percent of Michigan school food service directors reported interest in purchasing local foods in a 2013 survey. Like many institutional food buyers, their top logistical challenges were lack of labor to prepare local foods, lack of storage, and lack of a distribution method to get local food products to food service programs – precisely the challenges that a food hub can address.

According to Pirog, working together to turn these challenges into opportunities is the Michigan Food Hub Network’s philosophy. “Strong, collaborative relationships are key to the success of any business; building such relationships across hubs and their business partners is what the Michigan Food Hub Network does best.”

The Michigan Food Hub Network is part of a portfolio of Center for Regional Food System’s initiatives that facilitate the movement for Michigan Good Food – food that is healthy, green, fair and affordable – and the Michigan Good Food Charter. The Network is co-led by the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems and Morse Marketing Connections, LLC. For more information about the Network, contact Rich Pirog, Senior Associate Director of MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.

The Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) engages the people of Michigan, the United States and the world in developing regionally integrated sustainable food systems. CRFS extends MSU’s pioneering legacy of applied research, education and outreach by catalyzing collaboration and fostering innovation among the diverse range of people, processes and places involved in regional food systems. Our vision is a thriving economy, equity and sustainability for Michigan, the country and the planet through food systems rooted in local regions and centered on food that is healthy, green, fair and affordable. Learn more at foodsystems.msu.edu and connect on Twitter and Facebook @MSUCRFS.

About the Kresge Foundation

The Kresge Foundation is a $3.5 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grantmaking and investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development in Detroit.  In 2014, the Board of Trustees approved 408 awards totaling $242.5 million. That included a $100 million award to the Foundation for Detroit’s Future, a fund created to soften the impact of the city’s bankruptcy on pensioners and safeguard cultural assets at the Detroit Institute of Arts. A total $138.1 million was paid out to grantees over the course of the year. In addition, our Social Investment Practice made commitments totaling $20.4 million in 2014. For more information, visit kresge.org.

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