Executive Summary: Food Hub Study, Toledo, Ohio - May 2015
The purpose of this grant was to conduct a Feasibility Study in 2014-15 to determine if a facility located Toledo’s central city could engage in a sustainable year-round food hub operation using a "farm-to-fork" value chain model. Both location and operations are examined.
The title of this study is the Northwest Ohio Food Production and Distribution Hub. The actual facility under consideration is known locally as the Erie Street Market. Although there are other potential location choices in the central city, our task was specific to this location. So for clarity and consistency, we will from this point forward refer the Erie Street Market as the location under consideration to operate a sustainable year-round food hub in northwest Ohio.
Early in the study we quickly realized there was a significant understanding void as to what a food hub actually was. There was also confusion as to a potential competitive relationship between a food hub and existing distribution centers. This discovery obligated us to spend a significant amount of time analyzing the variety of food hub examples nationwide and how our community might “fit” into a similar supply chain locally.
Feedback was obtained through a variety of community meetings and presentations.
- Determine if the Erie Street Market’s centralized site location is best suitable for aggregating, processing, and distributing locally produced food products.
- Identify operational costs associated with a calendar year enterprise
- Ascertain the interest level of regional stakeholders and their capacities to participate in a managed food hub.
The Erie Street Market location is very suitable as a food hub location. It provides flex space, centralized heating/cooling, loading docks, safe/ free parking and reliable internet access. Logistically, it is scalable and can grow as business needs increase and become more complex.
It already has a history of functioning as a public market. Aggregation and distribution of regional and local food products has a particularly long track record.
The Warehouse District in which it resides is undergoing a renaissance and supports a food hub operation as part of other food related operations. There is strong interest in increasing foot traffic into the area. Neighborhood infrastructure improvements are also underway and are beginning to raise the visibility and image of a viable and exciting downtown standard of living.
The impact on the community should be substantial. The property is contiguous to the Farmers’ Market making it a desirable asset to build upon as key community leaders repurpose the district. A robust regional food system will benefit area neighborhoods and their quality of life. Located near other food distribution centers and a food bank is also an asset.
A sustainable operation blends attributes found in environmental, economic and social categories. It is this holistic approach that is characteristic of a food hub operation and should be a cornerstone to its mission and purpose.
A viable food hub by its very nature should positively impact the community by promoting other food related businesses in the downtown area.
We were able to identify a satisfactory number of early adopters that would consider being a part of a food hub operation in some capacity within the supply chain representing growers (producers) to consumers. Clearly, this effort is more of a marathon built on consensus than a race to the top by any one individual or organization. It was felt that the strength of a food hub project would be based on a co-op operational business model.
The supply chain starts with the farmer and ends with the consumer. When all is said and done, it is clear that without the support of area farmers; a food hub has no chance of success. An initial financial AND product commitment from this group is THE critical first step in the food hub implementation.
Next, the operation must be business centric balancing product volume and variety with year-round meticulous management oversight with a positive cash flow always in focus. Quality is a critical performance measure. Finally, establishing best business practices that customers can count on. Promises made and promises kept become the cornerstone to long-term, multi-year customer relations sustainability.