U of I business students provide roadmap for a local food hub

From IBC student presentationLast semester the Edible Economy Project engaged Illinois Business Consulting (IBC) to identify and recommend solutions that will help them establish a local food hub in central Illinois.  Edible Economy is a non-profit organization working to engage partners in 32 Central Illinois counties to create a modern, efficient, community-based regional food system where producers and consumers work together to foster a healthier, more self-sufficient community in which more local money goes back into local communities, and fresh, local, sustainably-raised foods are accessible to all citizens.

According to the USDA, a food hub acts as “a business or organization that is actively coordinating the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified locally grown food products from primarily small to mid-sized producers.” Benefits of food hubs include contributions to the local economy, increased access to fresh, healthy food, reduced energy consumption and improvements to the environment.

To jump start efforts the Edible Economy engaged the IBC, which is a program run by U of I students in the Business School that helps clients tap the University’s top student talent.   A team of 8 students led by Senior Manager Megan Cook, a Senior in Accountancy & Finance and Project Manager John Busch, a Junior in Finance in Agribusiness, accepted the challenge and worked up a set of recommendations that would culminate in the formation of a business cooperative to develop the hub.

The students presented their conclusions after sharing a market analysis and a business plan to the Edible Economy team on Dec 10.  Some of their recommendations include beginning by surveying Central Illinois’ 5,000 plus farmers to determine their desires and goals for a food hub and starting off with a co-op business model and switching to a limited liability corporation (LLC) model as the organization grows.  They also provided a business timeline, which recommends spending the first six months to a year in preparation and estimates that they can become fully established in six to twelve years.

To view the full analysis, you can download the presentation here.

With the roadmap provided by the IBC and a lot of enthusiasm the Edible Economy team is planning currently planning for next steps. To follow their progress and contribute your thoughts, visit the Edible Economy Project website.

Project manager John Busch was also pleased with the outcome of the semester-long project.  Says Busch, “All of our hard work, long hours and expertise were acknowledged after our presentation by Edible Economy and the mayor of Normal. The project is very relevant in today’s economy and with the right people and resources a significant impact can be achieved in Illinois’s agricultural industry.”  He also sees such exposure as a chance to publicize IBC’s work.  “It’s important to get the word out about IBC’s efforts to better the community and the organization itself.”  After completing an application process, students work for IBC first as consultants for several semesters, after which they may have the opportunity to be promoted to project managers, who are the main leaders on particular projects, and later senior managers, who oversee and do quality control on three projects.  Says Busch, “The organization succeeds on the fact that all the students involved, from the consultants to the senior managers, are talented, motivated, and outgoing individuals.”  For more information on IBC, see their website at http://www.ibc.illinois.edu/.

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