What do we do?
Unity Food Hub (UFH) aggregates, markets and distributes Maine foods from more than 50 farms & food businesses throughout Northern New England.
Why do we do what we do?
We seek to serve the goals of our farm partners and the broader interests of Maine's agricultural community. UFH aims to increase markets for Maine farmers while making Maine foods more accessible to more eaters throughout our region.
How do we do what we do?
By aggregating products from farms and food producers and marketing those products through two channels, Harvest Share and Wholesale Distribution, we aim to grow market opportunities for small and midsized farms, as well as larger producers. Our Harvest Share model is a highly customizable and convenient multi-farm share, delivering everything from fruits and veggies to dairy, meat, dry goods and specialty products to larger workplaces and low-income customers year-round. The Harvest Share and Wholesale channels are complementary in that they allow us to work will a full range of Maine producers, from small and midsized farms that grow for our Harvest Share to larger farms that produce enough volume for wholesale customers.
How does UFH work with farmers?
UFH takes a farmer-focused approach to sourcing the best possible Maine grown products. Our year-round share model allows us to use past sales data and participation to better estimate our product needs for each week of the year, and work with small and midsized producers to meet those needs. We work with our established farm partners to plan crops before they order seeds for the next season, enabling farmers to plan ahead, take less risk, and reduce waste on the farm. We also work with farms to select specific crops and seed varieties that are well-suited to their farm size and model, which translates into a diverse array of high quality produce in our veggie shares.
What is Unity Food Hub's Harvest Share delivery program? How is it different?
The UFH Harvest Share aggregates a full range of products from many Maine farms to create customizable, pay-as-you-go, year-round share boxes delivered primarily to employees at larger workplaces and low-income customers. The Harvest Share model is created with convenience in mind, and makes it easy for customers to add different items week to week, or suspend delivery while on vacation, for example. This emphasis on convenience means that more Maine consumers have easier access to Maine-grown products.
How does UFH approach Wholesale Distribution?
We work with larger farms to aggregate products for regional wholesale markets. We are working with regional distributors to create increased capacity for more Maine food to be available throughout New England.
How is UFH connected to Maine Farmland Trust?
UFH is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Maine Farmland Trust. UFH is partially supported by the sales of food and partially funded by MFT. The percentage that MFT underwrites is decreasing as food sales increase, and the goal is for UFH to be self-sustaining.
Why a nonprofit supported food hub?
MFT and UFH believe that in order to grow Maine’s agricultural economy, we need to leverage all of the resources available. Nonprofits can help buoy food hubs while in start-up mode, and can offer some stability, which in turn creates some flexibility for food hubs to test the viability of new and riskier models, for the benefit of the food and farm community.
Food hubs are just one piece of a big, complicated puzzle to rebuild a local food economy that is healthier for people, the environment, and the economy. Food hubs have great potential, but also face unique challenges that will take time, innovation, and investment to overcome. We believe investing in new models will pay off in the long run, but it will take time to develop best practices, and realize the full potential of a more localized, farmer-centric food system.
How UFH began:
The idea for Unity Food Hub was seeded in 2008, when Maine Farmland Trust began the Community Farm Share program. The program sought to create a new market for local farms while increasing access to local food for low-income customers. Community Farm Share was also one of the first multi-farm share models in the state, bringing in products from many farms, ranging from maple syrup and dried beans to fresh veggies, dairy, and meats. MFT raised funds from towns, private donors, and other sources to be able to offer the share boxes at half price to low-income customers.
As the Community Farm Share program grew, and the local food system continued to take root, MFT noted two major needs: farmers needed more markets for their products, and customers needed more access to those products. After several years of feasibility research, MFT decided to create a food hub to address those needs.
In addition to offering the Unity Food Hub Harvest Share through workplaces, the share is also accessible and marketed (much like the original Community Farm Share) to low-income customers through MFT’s Maine Harvest Bucks program.
Our intent is to share as much information about our model as possible. We are in the process of producing a Phase One case study to document the first two years of growth at UFH to date, to be released Summer 2017. The case study will be a living document, updated as we have new findings and information to share.