Archives: Food Systems and Distribution

Glossary of Key Food Systems Terms

Through the course of working with sustainable food businesses, you may come across these terms that relate to food systems and their structures. To understand entrepreneurship in the food and agriculture sector, you’ll need to understand food systems. A concept originating in academic study, the term draws together the steps involved in soil-to-soil food production, from on-farm processes to distribution and marketing networks, to post-consumer disposal. Understanding the interactions between each of these spheres, and the ways in our current systems fall short of economic and environmental sustainability, is crucial for developing a business idea that models social entrepreneurship. For more information on each of these topics, see our articles and the glossary below.

This glossary is via The Food Commons, October 2011.


The area of land and sea within a region from which food is produced in order to deliver nutrition to a population base. A local or regional food system includes all the inputs, outputs and processes involved in feeding the population within a foodshed. Note that the foodshed concept does not obviate the goal or need to export or import food outside of a region. (Los Angeles Urban-Rural Roundtable, 2010) Regional Food System “An ideal regional food system describes a system in which as much food as possible to meet the population’s food needs is produced, processed, distributed and purchased at multiple levels and scales within the region, resulting in maximum resilience, minimum importation, and significant economic and social return to all stakeholders in the region. This is known as “self-reliance” as opposed to “self-sufficiency” wherein everything consumed is supplied from within the target area.” (Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, 2010)

Food Hub

“A centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/
regionally produced food products.” (USDA Agricultural Marketing Service). For more on food hubs, see our article.

Food Desert

“An area with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and communities.” (2008 Farm Bill)

Food Security

From the supply side, food security refers to a country’s (or state’s, or region’s) ability to produce enough food to support its population. More recently the term has been used to describe the ability of local, state and federal entities to protect the food supply from acts of terrorism. The term is most commonly used today to define the extent to which
a population has access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.

Value Chain

“Strings of companies or collaborating players who work together to satisfy market demands for specific products or services. Sustainable value chains emphasize long-term, significant economic return to all firms in a chain, particularly producers who follow production practices using the highest standards of environmental and community stewardship. In a value chain business arrangement, each actor in the chain must make a mental shift from simply “What is best for my firm and my firm now?” to “What can I do in my firm to maximize the economic, environmental and community benefit to all the members of this value chain?” A significant change often comes in the form of information sharing. In a value chain members need to share a great deal more business information with one another so that all can make better decisions that affect  the group.”  (

Getting Your Food in the Door: Tips for Targeting Institutional Buyers

This article is written by guest contributor, Holly Fowler, Co-founder and Managing Director of Northbound Ventures, a sustainability consulting firm based in Somerville, MA and focused on developing sustainable communities, regional food systems, and institutional procurement practices.

Directly or indirectly, corporations and other institutional buyers of food play a key role in the local, regional, and global food systems. With Americans spending more than 40% of their food budget on meals outside of the home, companies, hospitals, universities, schools, and governments are increasingly in a position to influence public health, the environment, and the economic development of communities through their procurement practices and food promotion activities.

For food entrepreneurs, gaining access to institutional buyers can seem like a quest for the Holy Grail: the target is highly alluring, yet frustratingly elusive.

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A Guide to Buying and Selling Local Foods In New England for Buyers and Producers

Photo © Jane Hu

Last month, Noelle and I had the pleasure of attending the SBN Local Food Trade Show. Fifty vendors and hundreds of other food producers and buyers were in attendance for a lively day of networking and discussions focused on buying and selling local food. Whether you are a buyer in a restaurant or retail market looking to purchase more local food, or a local food producer looking to increase your sales and expand your customer base, here are a few guidelines we picked up on how to get started. You might find it interesting to read the perspective from the other side: if you’re a buyer, what are producers thinking? (And vice versa.) 

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The Local Meat Processing Landscape

As you may have read in the paper a few weeks ago, Blood Farms just burned down. Why is this a big deal? They were one of only three slaughterhouses in Massachusetts who service the nearly 100 livestock producers in the area. All of these farmers rely on this limited number of slaughterhouses to process their animals, so the loss of just one facility puts the local meat industry in a tight situation.

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Wholesale Food Production: The Roadmap

If you’re already producing food in a licensed environment, such as a restaurant or catering business, becoming a wholesale producer could be the next step for you to increase revenue by adding a new sales channel. You’ve already got the key ingredients required for wholesale production — a standardized recipe, your sources identified, and a solid grasp of food safety requirements — so the next steps will be identifying a space in which to manufacture at scale, obtaining a wholesale license, designing a package and label, and developing relationships with distributors.

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Financing A Sustainable Food System in New England

by Lisa Sebesta

How can we finance a sustainable food system in New England? In late January, 125 people gathered for a one-day session to tackle this question. Obviously, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to answer this in a single day. But after hearing from some of the leading players, I left the conference with a better understanding of the key issues to guide us forward.

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Food Hubs: What’s in a name?

I’ve been hearing a lot about food hubs lately, but it wasn’t until Iattended a workshop at NESAWG this past February that I fully understood what they are. What I’ve been calling aggregators (companies like Farmers to You and Boston Organics) are, in fact, food hubs. So here’s what I learned:

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Urban Agriculture: Progress and Potential in Boston

Already at the forefront of the local food movement, Boston continues to become a better city for restauranteurs committed to sourcing foods locally and sustainably. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), in conjunction with the Mayor’s Food Council and Office of Food Initiatives, is hard at work developing plans to modify the city’s zoning regulations to permit and even encourage urban agriculture.

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