Especially here in Austin, we talk a lot about local food. It seems like there’s a farmers market or a farm-to-table restaurant everywhere you look.
But the truth is, less than 3 percent of what we spend on food in the Austin area (which includes the 10 county region surrounding the city) is actually produced here. The problem is, while CSA boxes and locally-sourced restaurants are trendy, volume-wise, they’re still a fairly niche market.
So how can we actually grow and scale our local food industry?
That’s what the Sustainable Food Center and a team of partners (which included the Texas Center for Local Food, National Center for Appropriate Technology, Farmshare Austin, City of Austin Office of Sustainability, and Austin Public Health) looked at with the recently published report, “Feasibility Study For a Central Texas Food Hub.”
In the study, wholesale was identified as a potential growth opportunity, but a lot of barriers still stand in the way.
Wait. What’s wholesale exactly?
Many big restaurants, grocery stores, etc. buy all their food through third party vendors, who act as a middle man between all the different food producers and the food buyers. That way, a store owner is able to have more of a one-stop-shop experience, as opposed to ordering food from hundreds of different farmers, producers, etc.
The idea here is that if more local farmers are able to break into the larger wholesale market, they’ll be able to diversify their revenue streams and grow their sales (as opposed to relying so heavily on farmers markets and direct farmer-to-customer sales).
Okay, got it. So what are the barriers?
The study identified several key barriers (for both food producers and food buyers) when it comes to expanding the supply of local food in the wholesale market. These include:
- Farmers have a hard time tracking production costs to price their products accurately. This makes it difficult for them to go in and negotiate price adjustments for larger wholesale accounts (that have a different price point than farmers who sell exclusively at farmers markets are used to)
- Decreasing supply of land and increasing cost of land – as the study reports, Travis County (where Austin is located) loses the equivalent of six football fields of cropland every day
- Difficult for farmers to understand new food safety standards
- Many farmers have low insurance coverage relative to what large buyers require
- Shortage of qualified labor
- Food buyers need a consistent supply of products
- Hard for middle-man food distributors to build relationships with new growers (don’t have the time)
And what are the solutions?
The study put forth 11 different recommendations to collectively support our existing food infrastructure and to bring more local food to the wholesale market.
So what comes next?
- Farmshare Austin has now incorporated a business management and financial accountability component into their beginner farmer’s curriculum.
- SFC is looking at moving forward with the market match-making project (partnering with Foodshed Investors), as well as bringing wholesale readiness training to local farmers (partnering with the National Center For Appropriate Technology)
Want to learn more?
You can watch our full interview with Adrienne Haschke (Farm Direct Program Director with the Sustainable Food Center and main author of the study) below: