To Market We Go, but Where Are We Going? Investigating the Negotiation of Social Impact and Market Forces in Food Hubs

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: Booth 61
Oral Presentation
Lilian BRISLEN , University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Food hubs, a new form of values based food aggregation enterprise, are often positioned by their advocates as a solution to the concurrent problems of the loss of family farms, an urgent need to develop a sustainable food system, and the perplexing problem of persisting food insecurity in the global north.  Noting a “skyrocketing consumer demand” for local food, United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has identified food hubs as offering “critical” services to farmers, and stated that the success of food hubs “comes from … sound business sense and a desire for social impact”(May 2013).  However, goals of sound business sense and social impact are not known for their easy affinity.  With this in mind, this paper asks: How do the goals of promoting environmental sustainability, and enhancing food security support or detract from the goal of supporting family sized farms within both the philosophy and praxis of food hubs?   This paper also provides preliminary investigation into the variable role of market forces, and the necessity of developing a financially viable enterprise, in shaping the institutional goals, policies, and practices of food hubs.  Towards this end I will present preliminary research that draws from interviews with national food hub experts and leadership, and case study research with leadership and participating farmers of two food hubs.  Findings will highlight the specific ways in which goals of social impacts (environmental, economic, social) are both achieved and inhibited when implemented in a market based programmatic context. I will conclude by suggesting needed next steps in food hub (e.g. values based supply chain) research.