Central Oregon Regional Food Hub

What is a Food Hub?

A Food Hub is a regional facility that provides services such as aggregation, storage, distribution, marketing, and processing for regionally grown, raised, and produced food products from small and medium sized farms, ranches, and food businesses.

There’s no one-size-fits-all definition of a food hub, with a variety of different models operating successfully around the country. Some hubs also offer farmer education and support programs, or may partner with a local non-profit to offer these types of services. For more information on food hubs in general, check out the National Good Food Network Food Hub Center.

Central Oregon is dependent on imported food and is considered a food desert, meaning access to food is extremely limited in certain areas. In 2010, COIC’s Central Oregon Food Needs Assessment found that a lack of infrastructure was a barrier to a robust regional food marketplace for both producers and consumers. In response, COIC partnered with regional stakeholders to explore the development of a food hub model.

In 2012, the Central Oregon Food Hub Feasibility Study was published, indicating that a regional food hub could be a viable investment in Central Oregon. In 2018, COIC secured funding to develop a business plan and financial model for a future food hub. During this process, we identified an existing local food distributor, Agricultural Connections, LLC, who had grown to fulfill many of the core functions outlined in the Feasibility Study. COIC developed a public-private partnership with Agricultural Connections and together created a sustainable 5-year business plan and growth model.

Agricultural Connections provides an efficient, one-stop shopping experience for regional retail consumers and commercial buyers to purchase local products and provides the following services to suppliers:

  • Product marketing, brokerage, and distribution
  • Consistent post-harvest handling standards, education, and training
  • Farm pickup service (with minimum volume standards)
  • Short-term dry, cold, and freezer storage
  • Market intelligence and seasonal crop planning to match supply with demand
  • Farm tours, networking events, and other marketing opportunities
  • Potential for pre-season contracts and standing orders
  • Assistance accessing packaging materials for wholesale sales
  • Consistent schedule of weekly deliveries (up to 3x per week)

Through our public-private partnership, Agricultural Connections intends to scale up their sales and services in the next five years to further meet growing demand and identified needs. During this period, they hope to:

  • Increase sales of locally-produced products by 4x
  • Add new staff to support increased sales and operations
  • Purchase and install new processing and storage equipment
  • Expand distribution routes and delivery days

Agricultural Connections is the only regional distributor with a values-based focus on local food as their core mission. They prioritize local producers within Central Oregon, but will purchase as necessary from a larger geographic area in Oregon to meet demand. They operate on a competitive basis, and do not currently run non-profit programs or other farmer support services. Many of these services are delivered by local non-profit partners such as the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance, Central Oregon Locavore, and OSU Extension.

Agricultural Connections and COIC collaborate with these partners regularly to conduct research, collect data, and bring more resources into the region to support the growth of the local food system.

“I can grow more potatoes, but I can’t deliver more potatoes.” – Chris Casad, Owner/Proprieter of Casad Family Farms

The Food Hub provides triple bottom line benefits to our region: economic, social, and environmental.

  • Economic benefits include job creation; increased revenue in the local food sector (farming, ranching and food entrepreneurs/businesses); additional dollars invested into our local economy; and improved export of Central Oregon goods.
  • Social benefits include enhanced food security.  Food security allows for a reduced dependency on imported food to meet our needs. Food security improves regional resilience in instances where the region may experience an emergency situation, such as a natural hazard or limited transportation, which could leave the region solely reliant on current food supplies.

Environmental benefits include increased support for our agricultural producers to be stewards of the land, and a smaller food supply footprint based on the fact that the average piece of food travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate.

Enhancing the Wholesale Marketplace and Access to Specialty Crops
Funded by USDA Local Food Promotion Program Grant and ODA Specialty Crop Block Grant

The purpose of these projects was to enhance the wholesale marketplace to improve access to and production of locally produced agriculture products. Activities included:

  • Conducted an economic impact analysis and producer need assessment with OSU and the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance to understand the farming landscape
  • Provided direct technical assistance to farmers including grants to improve and workshops about food safety
  • Improved institutional buying and infrastructure investment
  • Provided support for Crook and Jefferson County on-farm events
  • Developed a local food challenge

Farm to School
Funded by USDA Farm to School

COIC worked with Sisters, Redmond and Crook County school districts (20 schools total) and the tribal community of Warm Springs to improve institutional procurement and support existing farm-to-school and farm-to-garden projects.

This effort included hiring a FoodCorps service member to teach classroom and garden curriculum within the Sisters school district, support in-class and after school activities with OSU Extension at the Warm Springs Academy and develop a Food Fair for Redmond school district. This project impacted on over 12,600 students, their parents and the agricultural community. Now, the farm to school program is managed by the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance.

Growing the Market for Specialty Crop and Value-Added Producers
Funded by Oregon Department of Agriculture

COIC worked in collaboration with Wy’East RC&D, OSU Extension Service and Jefferson County Soil & Water Conservation District to provide farm management workshops focused on marketing, production, fiscal and business operations, and a Food Summit II (fall 2014). 

This project expanded the Food & Farm Directory and regional marketing campaign, and provided marketing materials to farmers, as well as technical assistance training and networking opportunities with food businesses.

Development of the Local Food Value Chain
Funded by Rural Development Initiatives

COIC and the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance assessed the local food value chain and explored opportunities to build out and fill infrastructure gaps within the chain. This also included a supply and demand study to understand the flow of wholesale food within the region.

Cultivating Local Food Projects in Central Oregon
Funded by Meyer Memorial Trust 

 COIC provided community gardens and season extender grants, improved food skills education opportunities at community gardens; increased transportation and distribution options for local food, developed a Farm Share program where disadvantaged families had access to local food through a discounted CSA, and established a regional marketing campaign, Buy Fresh Buy Local. 

An outcome of the project was a partnership with the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance and the creation of the Central Oregon Food & Farm Directory as a community resource for individuals and businesses to buy and sell locally grown and made food products in Central Oregon.

Central Oregon Food Hub and Development Project
Funded by USDA Rural Development and Farmers Market Promotion Program

COIC developed an outline for the Central Oregon Food Hub project in conjunction with regional partners including a public/private partnership model to increase direct markets and access for Central Oregon farmers and residents, particularly low-income. Download the full Central Oregon Food Hub Feasibility Study.

Farmers Market Accepting Oregon Trail and Debit Cards
Funded by USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program

COIC helped to promote and create sustainable farmers markets in the Central Oregon by increasing consumer and farmer participation in farmers markets; expanding access to markets by providing machines that process SNAP benefits; and an overall marketing campaign.

Food Hub Feasibility Study
Funded by USDA Rural Development

COIC conducted a study was to assess the capacity of the region to support a local food hub – defined as a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution and marketing of regionally produced food products.

The core services of the proposed food hub would include: aggregation of food products to be delivered to restaurants or grocers, cold/freezer storage for bulk meats for Community Supported Agriculture, and centralized location for pick-up and drop off delivery system. Download the Central Oregon Food Hub Feasibility Study

Meat Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Feasibility Study
Funded by USDA Rural Development

Production of agricultural products for value-added products in niche markets was new for Central Oregon. With limited infrastructure and access to the urban marketplace, producers asked for help determining their options for accessing new markets.

COIC partnered with OSU Extension Service and a fifth-generation rancher to analyze the feasibility of developing a meat CSA in Central Oregon, along with the possibility of expanding and cooperating with multiple ranches. This study found that marketing beef through a CSA or a Buying Club is feasible and profitable. .

Central Oregon Community Food Assessment
The Central Oregon Community Food Assessment, Pioneering a Local Food System in Central Oregon, an initiative of Wy’East Resource Conservation & Development in partnership with COIC, NeighborImpact, and OSU Extension Service was completed in 2010.

This study documented food, farm and nutrition issues to inform future actions to increase food security. This effort was coordinated throughout Central Oregon with consumers, farmers, low-income individuals, planners, food businesses and institutions, governmental, private and non-profit organizations. Download the Food Assessment.

Central Oregon Community Garden Manual
A manual providing a list of community gardens and other valuable resources. Click here to be transported to the Manual.

For more information contact:
Janel Ruehl, Program Coordinator

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