As demand for local food has grown, local food marketing has increased in volume and sophistication. Once the domain of direct-marketing channels, such as farmers markets, local food has become a multi-billion dollar industry nationally. In fact, in recent years, wholesale transactions have even begun to outpace farm-direct sales. This pivot toward higher volume local and regional food supply chains has raised a number of questions about the mechanics of regional food supply chains. For example, how can they maximize logistical efficiencies and economies of scale to compete with conventional national supply chains while ensuring that growers receive a fair price for their product? And, how can improvements in metropolitan area food distribution help address food access for households reliant on small neighborhood markets for their groceries? The UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) is working with Wisconsin farmers and food businesses to answer such questions and to provide research-based foundation for regional food system development.
In August 2018, research conducted by CIAS helped lead to the development and passage of City of Madison Common Council Resolution to conduct a feasibility study for a wholesale food terminal and cross-dock to address gaps in regional food aggregation and distribution infrastructure. Wholesale produce markets (also called food terminals) are a strategy used in other US cities (e.g. Boston, San Francisco, Baltimore, Syracuse) to help farmers access metro markets and to help independent grocery retailers overcome storage and delivery challenges. Food terminals address issues associated with consolidation in the food industry by offering semi-public infrastructure that ensures market access for independent farmers, distributors, and buyers. Specifically, by renting space to a mix of food distributors, wholesalers, retailers and other food businesses, food terminals provide important off-site storage space, one-stop shopping for small volume buyers, and function as aggregation sites for high volume food buyers, such as schools and hospitals. Meanwhile, “cross-docks” at these facilities provide simultaneous pick-up and drop-off points, helping to move fresh product quickly and efficiently.
In September 2018, CIAS secured a $374,110.00 USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant in partnership with the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative that will build on this work by using sales and operations data from regional food distributors, haulers, and buyers to achieve the following:
- Coordinate demand across Madison area buyers including cooperative grocery and private-owned grocery retailers, restaurants, and institutional foodservice buyers.
- Develop better systems for linking rural and urban food freight by adapting the terminal market model used in other metro areas.
- Assess, document and share the financial and logistical feasibility of this distribution model with local, state and national partners and audiences through a practitioner-oriented summary report.
Local partners that have expressed an interest in collaborating in the project include the City of Madison, Willy Street Grocery Cooperative, Epic Systems, Second Harvest, and Reich Rabin, the owners of the Oscar Mayer site. In addition to improving regional food freight in greater Madison, this project will generate knowledge and distribution systems with the potential to enhance Wisconsin farmers’ access to the larger regional markets such as Milwaukee, Chicago, and the Twin Cities. CIAS’ applied research is part of a long tradition of research rooted in the Wisconsin Idea. This work demonstrates the continued valued of collaboration between CALS researchers and their public and private partners across the State.