Creating a Statewide Information Technology Platform for Food Hubs: Lessons from Michigan Webinar

January 15, 2016 - <$authorEmail>, <>, Marty Gerencer

Recording of January 8th 2016 webinar - Creating a Statewide Technology Platform for Food Hub: Lessons from Michigan.

This webinar is given by:

Creating a Statewide Technology Platform for Food Hub: Lessons from Michigan Slides

Webinar Transcript: 

Noel Bielczyc: okay, it's 1:30 Eastern Time. So we're going to start the webinar. Welcome everybody to today's webinar titled Creating a Statewide Information Technology Platform for Food Hubs; Lessons from Michigan. I'm Noel Bielczyc. I'm just going to run through a couple of quick things before we get started. First thing is that this webinar is being recorded, and it will be posted to the Center for Regional Food Systems website probably within a week or two. We'll certainly send out a link once that happens so you can share that around, and the slide deck will also be available as a PDF. We ask that everybody mute your mics until you're ready to speak. This is mostly just for presenters, but just keep in mind, and any participant can ask a question anytime, but there is going to be some specific time at the end for Q&A. We will be keeping an eye on the Q&A pod at the bottom of the screen, which is where you can enter your questions and we'll try to answer some of those as we go. That is about it for the webinar. If there's any technical issues, you can enter that in the chat pod, and we'll try to keep up with that. So I guess we'll just go from here. Today's webinar is going to be presented mostly by Rich Pirog. I'd like to introduce Rich by saying he needs no introduction, but I guess I'll elaborate a little bit more today. Rich is a Senior Associate Director at the Center for Regional Food Systems and a core team member of the Michigan Food Hub Network. I think I'll just leave it there. So Rich, you can take it away, and we'll go from here.

Rich Pirog: thank you, Noel, and good afternoon everybody and happy Friday. Today's webinar, our purpose here is to provide an overview of the reasons why a set of Michigan food hubs chose to conduct a feasibility study for a statewide information technology or IT platform, and we're going to talk about the processes we used in implementing the study, what the hubs have learned. You're going to hear about that from the hubs themselves, and also, just a preview of where we're headed next. This is -- it's important to note that we're focusing more on the lessons learned here. You know, the study, which is you can see, as you'll learn here, was conducted in cooperation with New Venture Advisors, our Michigan Food Hub Network, and our core network partner, Morse Marketing Connections. It is a confidential study, so there's parts of the study that we have not been able to -- that we won't share in this webinar. Nor will you find it in the public document, which is available online, and we -- for those of you that have not seen that document, it is online, and it will be available, the recording, the document itself and the slide deck will all be available in the same place after the webinar. So just very briefly, put some context of who we are, because we know with this particular webinar, we have folks from the hubs from a number of locations across the country.

The Center for Regional Food Systems is one of lead partners in the Michigan Food Hub Network. We work on a number of things in addition to the Michigan Food Hub Network and food hubs, including healthy food access, farm to institution, and farm to school, and we have our own charter here in Michigan around healthy food systems we talk about good food, meaning that's affordable, healthy, fair, and green, many organizations that are working on one or more of the six goals with the Michigan Good Food charter to hopefully have good food for all Michiganders by the year 2020. So just a little bit about the Michigan Food Hub Network to invite some context here. We're fortunate here in Michigan that the Food Hubcap network, which is being funded by the Kresge foundation, as well as the Kellogg foundation since 2012. This network started about the same time as the Michigan Department of Agriculture put some significant investment in Michigan food hubs. Within about three or four months of the time that our network started, there were five Michigan food hubs that received significant grants from the Department of Ag in the state, and even though that grant program is no longer as big and as vibrant as it was back in 2012, it really gave us some incredible momentum here in Michigan. So, just as the goals of this network, business-to-business cooperation, addressing food hub technical challenges, this being one of them, supplying healthy foods to underserved markets, and something new this year. We're in our second sort of phase of our work with Kresge funding, building even better relationships between hubs and institutional markets. We're very fortunate here, also coordinated within the center, to have the Michigan Farm Institution Network on board and working with us and hubs in Michigan to help connect those markets between hubs and institutions. What we do, and I know, I want to thank New Venture Advisors, and particularly, Kathy Nyquist. She, on the NGFM Food Hub Google list, there's been a lot of talk about networks, we've been meeting since 2012. We have three statewide meetings per year. We'd rotate those around the state, usually combine those with tours of hubs or hubs that are going to be forming. We provide business and technical assistance to hubs, in sort of a way like the national network does, but just within Michigan, and we offer some webinars and workshops like this. Last year, we sent five people to the University of Vermont Food Hub Manager Program. This year, there's going to be four, at least, with scholarships, actually, I think there'll be more than four Michiganders going. That's next week, starting right away, so, and also, we're very fortunate here in Michigan to have, among other things, a long and business assistance vehicle for Michigan Good Food Fund, which is one of the few healthy food financing funds in the country that will provide loans and business assistance across the food value chain. So production, processing, distribution, i.e., food hubs as well as food retail. The system, and again, we're indebted to our friends at the Wallace Network. We started within six months after Wallace started their national network. We have a very close relationship with our friends at the Wallace Center, and we try to be sort of this idea of a nested network, and where Wallace provides this national leadership, and we try to, our hubs work both with Wallace and then with our own network here in Michigan. We also worked directly with Wallace on the national food hub survey, which there was a webinar last November, and we're actually hopeful to see the full report out, hopefully within a month, just editing it, revising it this week. This particular study, and I'm going to, in some ways, this is going to be how some movies are where there's going to be like a piece of the information that's going to seem like it's not in the right chronological order, because we want to sort of tell us sort of a story here, but the six hubs, and there's a nice map of Michigan, and those of you that know Michigan that are from outside of the state, remember the whole thing with holding up your hand and this part here and how you -- I think I did that wrong, didn't I? Neal Curran is watching, and he's definitely taking notes and saying I do not know how to do the UP hand part. So he's shaking his head, because I did a bad job there. But we've got more than six hubs participating, but in this particular study in this process, six hubs have been just providing the leadership and have been sort of the thought leadership in this process. Allen Market Place, Cherry Capital Foods, Eastern Market Corporation, Sprout Urban Farms, the UP, or Upper Peninsula Food Exchange, and the Washtenaw Food Hub. We have, on this call, we have four of our panelists representing four of those hubs. So why, you know, why would we do this? And I know, again, there's been this buzz on the List Serve and the chats, and I think, in part, I think we would've done, we probably would have come to this, but I think having a network and having the hubs, spending a fair amount of time sort of thinking through challenges together probably has accelerated us to the point where we were asking these kind of questions. You know, we meet right early. There's a level of trust here that I think is a very healthy level of trust and what we might call co-opetition, a term that probably most of you have heard. Sort of that in between cooperation and competition. You know, the hubs here are interested in this concept of a statewide IT platform, and the idea itself emerged from hub-to-hub discussions. The hubs, as you'll hear, they brought the issue to the forefront and to the network and sort of started us on this journey that we're sharing with you. So let me sort of combine both the sort of the vision and the goals here. You know, why would we do this? Well, the hubs have formulated this vision, and this vision was just sort of further reinforced after we started the project as we worked with New Venture Advisors, of increasing purchasing volume of local food products among wholesale buyers across the state to increase production and sales of Michigan grown foods. So that was, you know, part of that vision, but, you know, we asked each, you know, we were asking this question hypothetically. What would an optimum or what would the best IT platform look like? Well, to get to this vision, that platform would need to help buyers and hubs to have more comprehensive access of foreign products across the state. One of the biggest issues is just being able to know who out there is sell, what they're selling, types and volumes.

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