Wisconsin Food Hub Co-op receives USDA grant to boost regional food distribution

Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative
Tara Turner, founding farmer and General Manager of the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, prepares a load of fresh produce for shipping at the cooperative’s Waupaca warehouse.

The Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative was recently awarded a USDA grant that will result in more local produce in grocery stores, restaurants and cafeterias, while helping Wisconsin farmers access markets in Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and the Twin Cities.

The cooperative received a USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant in September to further work on building a regional food distribution system. Project partners include the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, Willy Street Co-op, Epic Systems and Second Harvest Food Bank, among others.

“We are thrilled to receive this support from the USDA to strengthen the food system relationships in the region,” said Tara Turner, Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative General Manager and founding member of the cooperative. “We look forward to working with supply chain partners on creating an efficient distribution system that will provide a great boost for Wisconsin farmers.” 

Founded in 2012, the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative is a farmer-led business owned by its farmer-members and the Wisconsin Farmers Union. The cooperative is currently working closely with the City of Madison to create infrastructure for moving local food into the region, increasing returns to farmers and buyers through more cost-effective distribution.

"Locally grown or made products are about one-third of everything we sell, so local food is extremely important to our 35,000 co-op owners," said Brendon Smith, Communications Director at the Willy Street Co-op.

Once the domain of farmers markets and other types of direct marketing, local food has become a multi-billion dollar industry.  In recent years, wholesale transactions of locally and regionally grown food have begun to outpace farm-direct sales. 

“This new grant will enhance Wisconsin’s national leadership in the work to build a local food system that works for farmers, distributors, retailers, institutions, restaurants and ultimately consumers,” said Turner.

Using operations data from regional food distributors, haulers and buyers, the project partners will develop better systems for linking rural and urban food freight while coordinating local food demand for Madison-area buyers, including grocery stores and restaurants.

“I’m excited about this project’s potential to help smaller groceries purchase affordable fresh product. That’s a critical first step to improving healthy food access for Madison residents,” said Lindsey Day Farnsworth, postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and Madison Food Policy Council member.

“This is a win-win project for both consumers and small businesses in the Upper Midwest,” added Michelle Miller, Associate Director of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. “And it has potential to improve food access for Wisconsin’s small towns, too, by supporting independent food businesses throughout the Upper Midwest.”