Central Oregon Food Hub

What is a Food Hub?

A Food Hub is a facility that provides services such as aggregation, storage, and minimal processing for regionally grown, raised, and produced food products from small and medium sized farms, ranches, and food businesses. The Central Oregon Food Hub connects these small and medium sized suppliers with wholesale buyers to satisfy institutional demand.

What does Central Oregon’s Food Hub provide?

COIC has partnered with a private local food distribution business to realize the goals of a Central Oregon Food Hub.

Agricultural Connections, LLC is a one-stop place for sellers and wholesale buyers to purchase local products and access the following services:

  • Product aggregation
  • Product distribution
  • Post-harvest handling with limited processing
  • Post-harvest handling and packaging education for producers
  • Farm pickup service (with minimum volume)
  • Short-term dry, cold and freezer storage
  • Market intelligence and brokerage services
  • Consolidated marketing
  • Wholesale client farm tours
  • Networking with farmers and chefs

Through our public-private partnership, Agricultural Connections intends to scale up their sales and services in the next five years to further meet growing demand and identified needs. By 2020, they hope to:

  • Increase sales of locally-produced products by 4x
  • Add new staff to support increased sales and operations
  • Purchase and install new processing and storage equipment
  • Expand distribution routes and delivery days

Agricultural Connections is the only regional distributor with a values-based focus on local food as their core mission. They prioritize local producers within Central Oregon, but will purchase as necessary from a larger geographic area in Oregon to meet wholesale demand. They operate on a competitive basis, and work with producers to ensure wholesale compliance with relevant food safety regulations.

Why does Central Oregon need a Food Hub?

Central Oregon is dependent on imported food and is considered a food desert, meaning access to food is difficult or limited in certain areas. An infrastructure gap exists which prevents small to mid-sized farmers and food businesses from increasing production to provide consistent, competitively-priced local food to wholesale buyers. COIC completed the Central Oregon Food Hub Feasibility Study, which demonstrated the need for the Hub and necessary steps to bring this facility to the region.

Food Hub_Casad
“I can grow more potatoes, but I can’t deliver more potatoes.”

How does the Food Hub impact our region?

The Food Hub provides triple bottom line benefits to our region: economic, social, and environmental.

  • Economic benefits include job creation; increased revenue in the local food sector (farming, ranching and food entrepreneurs/businesses); additional dollars invested into our local economy; and improved export of Central Oregon goods.
  • Social benefits include enhanced food security.  Food security allows for a reduced dependency on imported food to meet our needs. Food security improves regional resilience in instances where the region may experience an emergency situation, such as a natural hazard or limited transportation, which could leave the region solely reliant on current food supplies.
  • Environmental benefits include increased support for our agricultural producers to be stewards of the land, and a smaller food supply footprint based on the fact that the average piece of food travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate.

Publications and Research

COIC and OSU conducted an economic impact study based upon the USDA Economic Impact of Food Systems Toolkit. This report presents findings from a total of 28 farmer and ranchers (producers) surveyed and details their earnings and expenditures. Our results show that producers created a total of 28 full and part-time jobs and generated $1.5 million in sales, with $248,000 in wages and salaries on their farm operations.

The study also estimated the potential growth in the economy by modeling three scenarios: 1) increasing current production; 2) establishing a food hub; and 3) shifting grocery store purchases of vegetables to locally grown supply.

Overall, the report demonstrates that local food producers have an important role in our economy, and that with minor shifts in overall production there could be additional jobs and revenue throughout the region.

Economic Impact of Local Food on the Central Oregon Economy
Economic Impact Study, Visual Overview (2 pages)
Presentation for the Oregon Community Food System Network (12/6/17)

Background (2010-2018)

In 2010, a Central Oregon Food Needs Assessment found that lack of infrastructure was a barrier to a robust regional food marketplace for both producers and consumers.  In response, COIC partnered with regional stakeholders to explore the development of a food hub model.  In 2012, the Central Oregon Food Hub Feasibility Study was published utilizing USDA Rural Development funding.  In 2012, a Food Hub Steering Committee made up of representation from: agricultural agency and producer, food business, chefs, distribution, economic development, government, grocer, institution, low-income access was formed.

The goals of the stakeholder group were to 1) clarify roles and develop strong partnerships in the community to ensure successful implementation, and 2) develop a clear vision, implementation plan, and an outline of a business plan that is financially sustainable, improves the viability of the local food economy, and incorporates low-income access.  In 2013 COIC presented our food hub model findings to the community and in 2014 COIC published a Food Hub Operating Plan.

In 2014, COIC partnered with the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance to work with community members to develop a food hub value-chain model. This project was funded by Rural Development Initiatives and focused on the WealthWorks framework, which brings together and connects community assets to meet market demand in ways that build livelihoods that last. Outcomes from this project were the development of a regional team, demand data to support the notion that buyers want local food, and next steps identified.

In 2015, COIC was funded through a USDA LFPP grant to determine the economic impact of small to mid-sized farms on the Central Oregon economy.  This study also determined the potential number of jobs and total revenue that could be generated if a Food Hub were to be built.

Also in 2015, COIC was funded by USDA RBDG to identify, site and develop a plan with a private business, currently providing critical infrastructure needs for the value and supply chain, to potentially co-locate with a new Food Hub.  In order to determine the feasibility of this endeavor, COIC and partners determined cold, dry and freezer storage needs, current fresh food supply, demand by wholesale/retail consumers, and the current workings of the supply and value chain. In addition to quantifying needs, COIC improved their social capital by reaching out to regional businesses and organizations to better understand their needs, barriers and potential opportunities for utilizing a food hub; this included reaching out to other regions of the state. Ultimately, COIC determined there were significant financial and logistical challenges to co-location that would render the project unsustainable based on financial benchmarks from other, similar-sized food hubs.

In early 2018, COIC was funded by the The Ford Family Foundation to complete a Food Hub Business Plan. COIC hired a consultant to analyze the results of previous development work. During this process, COIC identified another opportunity for a public-private partnership model, and subsequently worked with our private sector partner to develop a 5-year Business Plan, including pro forma, sensitivity analysis, staffing plan, and growth targets. The plan was completed in December, 2018.

COIC is currently exploring resources and funding opportunities to implement the targets outlined in the Business Plan.

Resources & Studies

For more information on food hubs, please visit the following links:


Janel Ruehl, COIC Program Coordinator

jruehl@coic.org or 541.548.9527