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Study Aimed at Feasibility of Establishing a Food Hub Kicks Off

In September 2014, United Way of Southeastern Connecticut received a $25,000 grant to conduct a food hub feasibility study in New London County from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Local Food Promotion Program. The grant was submitted on behalf of the New London County Food Policy Council and was crafted with collaboration from Connecticut College’s Office of Sustainability. On February 26, the study was officially kicked off at the headquarters of Charter Oak Federal Credit Union in Waterford. More than fifty guests were in attendance, from local farmers to nonprofit representatives to town officials to members of the New London Food Policy Council, to learn more about what establishing a food hub could mean for our region.

A food hub is defined as a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers for the purpose of strengthening producer capacity and wholesale, retail and institutional markets.

The goal of conducting a food hub feasibility study is to determine if the establishment of a food hub in New London County is feasible and sustainable. The study will address:

  1. Are there enough farmers in the county, regardless of size, willing to participate in a food hub? Can they support the volume of demand generated by the county food hub?
  2. Is there a commitment from local retail, institutional and commercial markets to source their produce, dairy and other agricultural products from the county food hub?
  3. Will local governments support this critical connection between farmers and consumers through advocacy and funding?
  4. What are the existing assets that could be leveraged to meet infrastructure and other needs in the development and operation of a county food hub?
  5. What food hub business model and facility infrastructure would best suit the needs of New London County producers and consumers?

The New London County Food Hub Feasibility Study will identify the gaps and strategies necessary for the implementation of a food hub in New London County. The study will serve as the initiation point to the development of the food hub. It will include a supply analysis, identifying the capacity of county farmers and ranch operations and existing infrastructure, and a demand analysis that catalogues market opportunities and assesses purchasing and packaging policies, food safety regulations, and volume requirements.

The researchers will also determine an operating model, offering a comprehensive analysis of the possible business models, geographic locations, and logistical structures to determine whether a particular structure offers a “best fit” for the particular needs and assets of New London County. An economic analysis will determine the financial requirements for breakeven and profitability capacities and sustainability, and a sensitivity analysis for pricing and volume. The study is expected to catalyze the development of a food hub that will bolster the local economy and increase domestic consumption of, and access to, fresh, healthy, and locally and regionally produced agricultural products.

The Food Hub Feasibility Study will be primarily facilitated by United Way and Connecticut College, working with the consulting firm of New Venture Advisors, LLC  which has experience in developing such studies and has been hired to assist in the successful completion of the study. Community members from United Way partner agencies, private and public businesses, local governments, higher education institutions, local hospitals and the general public will be engaged throughout the process to ensure that a diversity of needs, opinions and suggestions are considered during the creation of the study.