After several years of leadership in the Farm to School movement, UEPI understood that many of the challenges in getting fresh, local foods into schools, institutions, and other venues in underserved communities were due to barriers on the supply side. The success and sustainability of farm to institution programs hinged upon small and midsized farmers gaining access to wholesale distribution channels and other necessary infrastructure that many lacked. With these obstacles in mind, UEPI’s Regional Food Systems program began to focus on strategies to “scale up” the operations of small and midsized farmers in the region to be able to participate in the mainstream food system. Today, UEPI’s primary strategy for achieving these goals and expanding regional food infrastructure is through the development of Regional Food Hubs or, integrated food distribution systems that coordinate agricultural production and the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and marketing of locally or regionally-produced foods products. Regional Food Hubs essentially help small and midsized farmers overcome the barriers associated with selling their products to institutional and other wholesale customers. A more detailed description of Regional Food Hubs can be found here.
Los Angeles Regional Food Hub
UEPI’s principal Regional Food Hub project is to plan for a Regional Food Hub in Los Angeles that will supply fresh local foods to communities throughout the City, facilitate institutional sales, and create new opportunities for small and midsized farmers across Southern California. With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and in partnership with the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, UEPI has convened a working group of food system stakeholders to inform the project’s vision and ensure that it will ultimately leverage existing infrastructure and address an unmet need for regional farmers rather than duplicate existing efforts. With ongoing input from the Working Group, UEPI will be working with a consultant to conduct a feasibility study and business plan for the proposed project, which is scheduled to be completed in spring of 2012. UEPI is also coordinating with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council on this effort and several Food Policy Council members actively participate in the Working Group. More details about the current Los Angeles Regional Food Hub project vision are available here.
California Regional Food Hub Network
UEPI is also working to develop a network of Regional Food Hubs throughout California that will support the operations of individual Hubs by sharing information and resources. In 2010, UEPI convened an advisory council of stakeholders from around the state to develop a vision and implementation plan for the Regional Food Hub Network. More information about this project can be found here in the final report. After subsequent Regional Food Hub Network meetings, UEPI is working toward a strategy to facilitate information sharing across Hubs.