Food Hubs and Wholesale Market Development

A “Wholesale Market Development” tour hosted by the Oregon Community Food Systems Network identified both opportunities and challenges for farmers trying to scale from direct to wholesale markets, and for distributors and retailers trying to source more local products.

Local organizers for the tour included THRIVE and Rogue Valley Farm to School. Support for the event came from Meyer Memorial Trust and the Corvallis Environmental Center.

Tour stops included two local farms (Fry Family Farm and Wandering Roots Farm), two handling facilities (Fry Family Farm Food Hub and Naumes, Inc.) and one retail store (Cartwright’s Valley Meat Company).

The Fry Family Farm Food Hub is a recently completed a $1.2M project to develop an on-farm produce-washing and sorting line, cooler and freezer space, loading dock, commercial kitchen, and retail space. Family members Ashley and Amber Fry stressed the importance of planning to determine the appropriate design, capacities, and scale of the facility to ensure full utilization.

Panel discussions were also held with wholesale distributors (Charlie’s Produce, Organically Grown Company, and Rogue Natural Foods), retail food buyers (Ashland Food Co-op, Natural Grocers, and Ray’s Marketplace), and farmers exploring wholesale markets (Blue Fox Farms, Rainshadow Organics, and Shasta View Inc.).

Speakers on the distributor and retail panels affirmed that there is growing consumer demand for local products. It can be challenging finding the right fit though both for buyers and farm suppliers. As Chris Jagger of Blue Fox Farms said, “With wholesale, you have to bring your ‘A Game.’”

Issues of concern raised by panelists included the quality of produce, consistent supply, the importance of cosmetic appearance and the challenge of finding value for seconds and thirds, and meeting requirements for food safety.

Farmers noted the importance of telling their story and using websites and social media to enable a connection with the end buyer even with distribution.

Both farmers and food processors also called out increasing challenges meeting labor needs.

Tracy Harding of Rogue Valley Farm to School, and a recent graduate of the Food Hub Management certificate program at the University of Vermont, put together the following list:

Resources for people interested in learning more about food hubs:

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