Filling the Truck: Coordinating Small Supply Chains for Last Mile Efficiencies

CIAS is partnering with the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative to assess regional wholesale supply chains for Wisconsin food. Wisconsin farmers and small-scale processors have been on the forefront nationally to improve systems for a consistent and increasing wholesale supply of local produce and value-added products. However, there is still work to be done to allow for a resource-efficient flow of quality products into the local and regional supply chains. Research “suggests that when food miles are small, product aggregation to achieve large load sizes and logistical efficiencies can yield highly fuel efficient distribution systems.” The project benefits farmers, local processors, and wholesale buyers by building steady demand that can be serviced by optimized aggregation, logistics, and refrigerated transportation routes. The project builds on strategic partnerships between farmers, advocates, buyers, including the Williamson Street Grocery Cooperative, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This work increases local produce availability for consumers in the Madison area, strengthens supply chains of local food to Milwaukee and Chicago markets, and increases returns to farmers and buyers with more cost-effective movement of product.

Project Partners

Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative – project lead

Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems – community organizer

Participating Organizations

  • Epic
  • Williamson Street Grocery Cooperative
  • Madison Metropolitan School District
  • Winnesota
  • Community Action Coalition – South Central Wisconsin
  • Second Harvest Food Bank
  • Feeding Wisconsin
  • Feeding America
  • REAP
  • Little John’s Kitchen
  • Fifth Season Coop
  • Wisconsin Terminal Market
  • Chicago Food Policy County
  • Cook County Extension
  • UW Division of Extension
  • Madison Regional Economic Partnership
  • WI Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection
  • Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation


United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service


Since it was founded, the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative (WFHC) has partnered with applied researchers at the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) in participatory research on local and regional food distribution. In February 2018, CIAS, WFHC and the City of Madison co-hosted a Madison area food distributor and buyer meeting to identify barriers and opportunities to expanding local food purchasing by restaurants, grocery retailers, and institutions.

Event registration survey results indicated that all participating buyers were interested in or already purchasing local products. Over 60% of the participants reported experiencing distribution challenges and ranked high metro area delivery costs and inefficient last-mile (e.g. metro area) distribution and logistics as the biggest issues. Finally, 95% of meeting participants indicated that they were interested in exploring a shared multi-tenant food storage and cross-docking space to help address these challenges.

The Williamson Street Grocery Cooperative (WSGC) was an active participant in these meetings and has identified itself as a partner in efforts to improve aggregation and transport efficiencies for the farmers that it currently works with and to build on the possibilities to increase local purchases in the future.  Epic Systems, the large software corporation in the Madison area with over 9500 employees, also attended the February 2018 meeting and has signed on as a collaborator to this project, looking to improve logistics for purchasing local food for their foodservice operations. As such, a key take-away from the meeting was that there is strong multi-stakeholder interest in developing collaborative food aggregation/distribution infrastructure in Madison and Dane County.