A recent survey of state food hubs found that Georgia—through small groups of farmers—provides the large amounts of local produce needed to grow local markets. The study was conducted by researchers at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Small-scale farmers can sell directly to consumers, but a growing number find they have too much produce for a farmers market or a community-supported agriculture system but not enough to meet the needs of restaurants, schools or grocery stores. That’s the purpose of a food hub—to pull these small- and medium-size farms together, so they can pool their products to fill large orders.
The survey, completed this summer, is the first step in a Georgia Sustainable Agriculture Consortium plan, led by UGA Cooperative Extension, to support the development of new food hubs. It found that farmers and entrepreneurs across the state—whether they called themselves food hubs or not—already are coming up with partnerships to help meet the consumer’s demand for local produce.
“Agriculture is Georgia’s No. 1 industry,” said Julia Gaskin, a sustainable agriculture coordinator for the agricultural and environmental sciences college who directed the recent survey. “There is a demand for local food and limited infrastructure for small- and mid-size farms to access wholesale markets. Food hubs have the potential to make this link, increase the viability of these farms and create jobs.”
The hubs ranged from a small group of farmers in Glennville, who started growing greens and field peas to supply the needs of local schools, to White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, a beef cattle processing operation that works with a group of local cattle farmers to supply grass-fed beef to Publix and Whole Foods stores in Georgia.
The consortium’s next step is to analyze a survey of farmers’ needs to determine what would help them develop strong food hub systems.