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Why Louisville Is Betting Big on a Massive Food Wonderland

The city's planned FoodPort is part of a trend toward mixed-use food hubs.
Renderings of the planned FoodPort in Louisville, Kentucky.
Renderings of the planned FoodPort in Louisville, Kentucky.OMA

You’d be forgiven for mistaking the West Louisville FoodPort project for a theme park. Featuring carnivalesque roofs, a zigzag floor plan, and a bright red ball mounted in a central plaza, the latest mock-ups for the site (by the Rem Koolhaas design firm OMA) are the stuff of childhood fantasy—not your typical public-private partnership. The 24-acre complex, expected to break ground this fall, is the newest and most ambitious variation on a growing nationwide trend: the regional food hub.

The USDA defines a “food hub” as a business or organization that manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of locally sourced food products. Most but not all food hubs operate a physical warehouse space and trucks to move farmers’ wares, primarily to wholesale buyers such as restaurants, grocery stores, and school systems; some also sell retail to consumers. The one thing they all have in common is creating economies of scale for small and mid-sized farmers. Individually, these farmers wouldn't produce enough to reach large regional markets; together, linked by a food hub, they can.