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Digital "Food Hubs" Help Farmers Grow Business
The USDA says there are now more than 230 digital Food Hubs on the internet, up 65 percent in 5 years. These hubs help smaller producers pool their products, market to a larger audience, and fill bigger contracts. In 2007, about 137,000 small farms sold products directly to consumers or through food hubs. That number increased to nearly 180,000 in 2013.
  In Minnesota, the agriculture department operates Minnesota Grown, a website and colorful directory listing 970 farms that market vegetables, meats, berries, trees, flowers and many other products. Their website minnesotagrown.com has a searchable database that connects consumers to producers by product, service and zip code. More than 200,000 unique visitors use it annually.
  One of the country’s oldest food hubs is La Montanita, in New Mexico. Established in 1976, they buy from more than 700 local farmers and producers, then warehouse and process more than 1,000 local products at their retail co-op locations across the state (ph 505 217-2010; www.lamontanitacoop.com).
  Another example is The Appalachian Farmers Market Association, a strong network of several hundred local producers in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee. They promote products from farmers and crafters. Products such as fresh locally grown foods are marketed throughout Appalachia at stores and stands. The association distributes 15,000 flyers to promote its members’ products and maintains an interactive website that includes regular “farmer of the week” articles (ph 276 623-1121; www.appfma.org).
  Online food hubs set up by independent producers are a more recent variation of the food hub phenomenon. “The internet connects buyers and sellers in a way that didn’t exist a decade ago,” says Rob Ness, who buys preserves, popcorn, honey and fresh vegetables from sources he’s found online. Food-Hub.org has more than 5,000 members in Western U.S., about 40 percent buyers and an equal number of sellers. Their website connects people with information, photos and videos.
   An even more unique outgrowth of online marketing is a software program from Lulus Local Food that helps producers establish and operate online farmer’s markets (www.luluslocalfood.com).
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, www.minnesotagrown.com. La Montanita Co-op, 901 Menaul Blvd. N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87107 (ph 505 217-2010; www.lamontanita.coop). Appalachian Farmers Market Association (ph 276 623-1121; www.appfma.org). Farmers Markets and Local Food Marketing (www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/foodhubs). Lulus Local Food, P.O. Box 29193, Richmond, Virginia 23242 (www.luluslocalfood.com).

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2014 - Volume #38, Issue #1