MSU hosts an innovative Financial Management Boot Camp for Food Hub managers

The Food Hub specialist at the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, and members of the MSU Extension Community Food Systems team paired up to host a statewide financial management boot camp in Flint, MI.

Food Hub Boot Camp at Flint Fresh Food Hub.
Food Hub Boot Camp at Flint Fresh Food Hub. Photo by Jae Gerhart, MSU Extension.

The Food Hub specialist at the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, and members of the MSU Extension Community Food Systems team paired up to host a statewide financial management boot camp for eight Michigan food hub businesses earlier this month in Flint, MI.

This Financial Management Boot Camp combined education, one-on-one consulting, and networking, in an intensive four-day training to help the food hubs develop unique business plans. The training  is a program of the Food Finance Institute, a Business and Entrepreneurship program of the University of Wisconsin System Administration. Led and directed by Tera Johnson, the Food Finance Institute (FFI) leverages and supports a collaborative network of professionals focused on building and funding profitable businesses in the food, beverage and value-added agriculture sector. Funding for this training was provided by a 2018 USDA Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) grant awarded to the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems to support the Michigan Food Hub Network.  Additional funding came from a 2016 LFPP Grant awarded to the Food Finance Institute, which has made this training opportunity available to food hubs across the country.

Each full day’s training built upon the previous day’s work, with the financial managers using multiple tools to develop their business plans as the workshop progressed. The tools and individual coaching sessions included such topics as understanding successful hub business models, financial fundamentals and planning, infrastructure considerations, utilizing market research data for product development and developing a strong pitch for fundraising. By the fourth and final day, the hub managers presented their business models, in a Shark Tank type format.

The Michigan Food Hub network businesses participating in this training were:

  • Allen Market Place in Lansing – a part of the Allen Neighborhood Center, the Market Place is mid-Michigan’s food hub with an online local wholesale market (the Exchange), an incubator kitchen, and a year-round farmers market.
  • Albion Food Hub – a multi-purpose center supporting food businesses by operating an incubator kitchen and storage space to serve as an initial home base where small food businesses can develop. They operate a Fresh Food Market year-round, including produce, meats, and dairy.
  • Argus Farm Stop Food Hub/Ann Arbor – a year-round everyday farmers market in two locations selling locally grown produce, meats and dairy, growing the local agricultural economy.
  • The Farm at St. Joe’s Hospital/Ann Arbor – the hospital is on the former site of a family farm, and in true return-to-roots style, broke ground in April 2010 to establish one of the first hospital-based farms in the United States. The Farm was created to transform health care and offer an opportunity for fresh food, nutrition education and therapy.
  • Flint Fresh Food Hub – is a non-profit organization supported by a coalition of five local community partners whose mission is to bring sustainable access to healthy food in the Flint community. A veggie box subscription program and a mobile market operate out of the hub.
  • Grow Eastern Market – Dirt, Dock, Door- locally grown and harvested fresh foods from Michigan farms to Eastern Market’s loading docks, which is then delivered directly to buyers, brokering farm to fork relationships with distributors and institutional buyers like chefs/restaurants, grocery stores and schools.
  • Kalamazoo Valley Community College Valley HUB – a farm, food hub, licensed food processing facility and education center based at the Food Innovation Center of Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
  • The Sprout Food Hub in Battle Creek – sells local produce and meats sourced from 45+ local farms to institutions, schools, breweries, restaurants, food carts, cafes and hospitals in and around the Battle Creek area.

One main takeaway from this workshop was how different food hub models in Michigan work, who they work with, and how they differentiate themselves depending on their missions, operations, and locations. Through instructor Tera Johnson’s real-world experiences and successful fundraising endeavors, hub managers learned what the current trends are in food consumption and purchasing preferences, how each food hub could make realistic assumptions about their future growth and establishing what makes their hubs ‘defensibly unique’.

Each participant left with a digital financial package to share with stakeholders and to support future fundraising efforts. Whether their origins were through educational entities, health care institutions, non-profit organizations, or private/public foundations, it was clear that rapid change is occurring in the food and value-added farm enterprise world, and these businesses need to be able to adapt quickly to become more financially resilient. The partnerships and networking connections that were made in the four consecutive days together certainly provides the managers with additional support systems for success.

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