OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

The Hillsborough Hub: A Food Systems Collaboratory

The Hub will be a creative organizational backbone to facilitate community wide collaboration for a regenerative and equitable food system.

Photo of Brooke  Hansen
2 4

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Patel College of Global Sustainability, University of South Florida

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Other

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

The two lead applicants are Dr. Brooke Hansen from University of South Florida and Monica Petrella, Food Systems Specialist, Hillsborough County. We are collaborating with organizations, colleges, centers, community groups and municipalities including the following (Appendix A): Hillsborough County Extension; Coalition of Community Gardens; USF Urban Food Sovereignty Group; Sweetwater Organic Community Farm; Suncoast Compost; AdventHealth; City of Tampa; Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger; Florida Food Policy Council, Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition; University Area Community Redevelopment Corporation; Harvest Hope Park and Garden; Center for the Advancement of Food Security and Healthy Communities; Arts Council of Hillsborough County; Hillsborough County School District; OPEN Seeds; Sustainable Urban Agriculture Coalition; Sustainable Living Project; National Farm to School Network; Healthy Hillsborough; Hillsborough County Farm Bureau Women's Leadership Committee

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Hillsborough County, Florida, USA covers a total area of 3,280 square kilometers.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Hillsborough County is the place where we live, work, play, and eat. Our families live here, and we engage the food system here through our jobs, research, and service to the community. Monica is the inaugural Food System Program Coordinator for Hillsborough County, a role that grew out of her commitment to this subject and passion for systematic change.

In the last two years, Monica has extensively observed the current landscape of stakeholders in the region and published her findings in her thesis titled, “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work” (Appendix B) which concludes by justifying the need for an organizational backbone to unleash the potential of a collective impact approach. After completing her M.S. in Community Development and Applied Economics, she began advocating that a robust community food system would contribute to overall enhanced community well-being. Fortunately, Hillsborough County government also recognized this foundational claim and began looking for a Food System Program Coordinator to unify various existing county initiatives as well as partner with community organizations to create a centralized approach to food system development.

Brooke’s passion for promoting sustainability in the local food system is seen in her service work in many food and agriculture organizations in the county, from food policy councils to food sovereignty think tanks. She is also a “boots on the ground” practitioner; she composts all the food waste from her college in her own backyard and helps to build school gardens, church gardens, and edible landscapes throughout the county. In our region, we have significant food deserts and swamps, poverty, rampant diet-related health issues, and agricultural challenges from citrus greening to rising temperatures. This has instilled in our community an urgency to make our foodshed resilient and a model for others to follow around the state and the world.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Hillsborough County is unique among the 67 counties in Florida as the fourth largest with a rapidly growing population that requires intense investments in the built environment. We are at the crossroads of balancing ever increasing numbers with sustainability. We have incredible natural ecosystems that include coastal bays, freshwater springs, preserves, and 7 major rivers.  

Tampa is the third largest city in the state, a place that grew from technology and transportation innovations of the time (rail in the 1800s) and a multicultural and multinational cigar industry. We have only three incorporated cities, meaning that many of our services, policies, and outreach occur at the county level.  The county’s unincorporated area is around 2,300 km2, more than 84% of the total land area. For all the distinguishing features of Tampa as the urban center, from having one of the largest ports in the southeast to an award winning sustainable airport, our rural areas have accolades of their own. The agricultural sector is the second largest in the state with over 8,000 acres planted in strawberries alone (10% grown organically) dubbing us the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World. With over 30% of our land in farms, the county is an agricultural juggernaut pulling in around $400 million annually from dozens of crops from kale and kohlrabi to tomatoes and squash. Agriculture is part of the culture and fabric of the rural areas, celebrated by produce festivals (with the annual Strawberry Festival being the largest), bureaus (the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau), and bumper stickers (No Farms, No Food). 

Hillsborough County is also demographically diverse  -- a quarter of the population speaks another primary language at home besides English. Historically, the cigar industry brought Cubans and Latinos while the expansion of agriculture and tourism brought people from all over the world to work in our two largest industries, tourism and agriculture.We have significant populations of Afro-Caribbean people which is witnessed in our community gardens by the inclusion of Jamaican sorrel, okra, and cassava. Part of our diversity is also reflected in our higher education institutions, with University of South Florida hosting over 40,000 students (over 10% are international). Hillsborough Community College operates five campuses throughout the county and some of their faculty are innovators in community composting. 

Hillsborough County is also in one of the most vulnerable locations to bear the brunt of climate change. We already have salt water intrusions in some of the aquifers near the 160 miles of county shoreline and in worst-case scenario sea level rise mapping, the entire Tampa airport will be underwater. Recently, stakeholders came together to form the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition to collectively work on what we are going to do about flooding, renewable energy, climate justice, and agriculture with the changes that are to come. The Hillsborough Hub will be a significant voice and reminder for the community that if we build a more resilient food system now we will better weather the figurative and literal storms to come. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Largely, the current challenges of our food system are not incredibly unique from the food systems in other communities. What is unique about our food system is our ability to respond; this is why the Hillsborough Hub will be immensely successful. The Hillsborough Hub considers all aspects from production to waste recovery/nutrient cycling as essential components in our food system (Appendix C Food System Cycle) and aims to crowd-source solutions to the wide-ranging challenges experienced across the food system spectrum.

Hillsborough County is touted as one of the highest producing agricultural counties in the state, yet 34.5% of our residents are experiencing food insecurity (Appendix C: Hunger Gap Map). This is a distribution challenge. 

Additionally, among food insecure households, 48.5% of them identified as Hispanic. This is a social equity challenge. 

Florida soils are sandy and do not have adequate nutrients without the heavy application of fertilizers while our landfills are filling up with food scraps and organic materials. This is a waste recovery and environmental challenge. 

Farmers are aging out of production and their children are not taking over the occupation. This is a workforce development challenge that needs to pay close heed to diversity inclusion. 

Increasing prices in land speculation (largely due to the booming urban area) are forcing small farmers and ranchers to sell to large agribusinesses, creating a highly consolidated market with less local ownership. This is an economic and social challenge. 

Added to this are the effects of climate change we are already experiencing:  rising temperatures and waters. These are some of our main 2050 challenges. We need to promote resilient agricultural practices to not only address these, but to stimulate more local food production, shortening of the supply chain, and equitable distribution. The Hillsborough Hub will do this through education and project development with renewable resources such as food composting. The Hub will also champion technological innovations such as shipping container farms, hydroponics, aquaponics, and vertical urban farming. There needs to be a comprehensive community focus and more efforts can be targeted at homes and schools. We do not have an organized farm to school program in the county and the Hillsborough Hub will move into the space and facilitate reaching all 250 of our schools.

Another challenge is lack of comprehensive education about agriculture, gardening, health, diet, and what it means to be a resilient community. We have laudable extension programs and public health initiatives but they are not always contextualized with the systems thinking that the foodshed requires. At the Patel College of Global Sustainability (PCGS), systems thinking is at the core of the program with a significant emphasis on the FEW: Food, Energy, Water nexus. The central collaboration of PCGS with the Hub will keep these perspectives at the forefront. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The Hillsborough Hub will be a unified coalition of food system stakeholders and present opportunities for members to share resources, collaborate on projects, reinforce each other’s work and build towards common objectives. Inspired by the Collective Impact model, the Hub is “a place and space” for collaboration and works as the backbone organization to the community at large. Organized in a democratic, grassroots manner, the Hub will employ a manager who is responsible for cross-community collaboration, stakeholder engagement and project implementation. The Hub would be organized based on “teams” who share common missions and objectives followed by “subcommittees” with other stakeholders who work in related fields and eventually represented by “committees” who represent the larger aspects of the food system (Appendix E).  For example, many small and mid-size farmers might express a need for a localized distribution center to work as the intermediary between larger institutional buyers and their farms. The Hillsborough Hub would work with the appropriate stakeholders to make it a reality. 

Our plan is to implement the Hub in 4 phases – 1) build community capacity and interest, 2) undergo an asset based community development initiative and complement it with a formal foodshed assessment, 3) host a collaborative summit with stakeholders, 4) establish the hub and work to fundraise for longevity. See detailed Budget sheet (Appendix F).  

Specific projects implemented by the Hub could include the following:

Training people in sustainable and regenerative food systems careers focused on the most marginalized neighborhoods and aligned with incubator programs we already have from the Small Business Development Center to the weekly1 Million Cups Tampa. 

Launching urban agriculture and other forms of future farming innovations using traditional and emerging technologies to combat climate change effects and promote education. These technologies are conducive to integrating with STEM programs in local schools. The Tampa Bay STEM Network is connected to every school in the county and we will integrate with their programs to highlight food systems thinking and regenerative practices among youth and in school gardens. 

Sponsoring creative engagement with the food system through art, music, and expression as a way to engage the public. From pop up garden+arts exhibits to making sure to insert the A into STEM, we can go full STEAM ahead (Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS, and Math) with engaging and educating.

Hosting asset mapping forums focused on valuing everyone’s contributions and really understanding our community skill sets for the challenges ahead. In a real world example, when implemented at a pantry, asset mapping demonstrated that the patrons of the soup kitchen had more culinary skills than the volunteers and they started cooking the food. We are going to use this technique and flip the script on the hierarchies inherent in our food system. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

After ten years of the Hillsborough Hub strengthening and connecting the web of our food system, we will have seen a drop in diet related diseases, especially in our low-income neighborhoods. We will see urban gardens where there used to be vacant lots. We will see shipping container farms where there used to be under-utilized stripmalls with their vast hectares of paved paradise. All the 250 schools in Hillsborough County will have a school garden and promotion of a composting program, whether it be their own or connected to a Make Soil site like we currently have at the Greco Middle School (also home to the Temple Terrace Community Garden where the school collaborates on gardening). 

Knowledge of growing food and eating healthy will have increased exponentially and the People’s Papaya Project that we launched will have planted over 10,000 nutritious fruit bearing trees in school grounds, senior centers, backyards, and corporate landscapes. Hillsborough County will have increased the diversity of crops grown by 30% and local food production will account for at least 15% of all food consumed in the county. With an increase of local food sales in the US from $5 billion in 2008 to over $20 billion in 2019, the support and interest of many stakeholders will come together to make this a reality. 

We will have trained scores of individuals for careers in a vibrant food system and lowered unemployment in socioeconomically marginalized areas. 

We will have joined forces with the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition and others to address, mitigate, and transform our vulnerabilities from storms, flooding, heat, and sea level rise into resilience. Water conservation and management practices have been adopted at the county and municipal level to protect our food system and all of its components. Agricultural practices and crops have been aligned to changing weather patterns and made more resilient. Our food future will be nourished. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our vision is to create a place and space for stakeholders in the community food system in Hillsborough County to come together to plan and build a resilient, safe, responsible, and robust agricultural and food systems community. The Hillsborough Hub: A Food Systems Collaboratory will create a never before seen effort in the county that brings together people from the realms of food production, education, health care, the arts, sciences, sustainability, neighborhoods, and communities to connect and promote a totally integrated food system for resilient communities. We are going to create meaningful databases, so we know what we have for food production, farms, community gardens, individual producers, and more. We are going to create a clearinghouse for existing policies that impact the food system and engage with policy makers to develop more policies that promote a resilient food system. Local food production will be promoted through what we already have with extension classes and training and will be enhanced with campaigns like the PPP: Peoples' Papaya Project where we will give away 10,000 papaya trees to raise awareness of what we can grow here. We will create a new farmer program and have an incubator for social entrepreneurship to develop value-added products and other locally based innovative food services. Our vision is a true collaboratory, a center without walls that brings disparate people and organizations together, anchored by a digital home, satellite meeting centers provided by our partners, and a branding campaign to “get hip to the Hub and nourish our communities.” 

We imagine the Hillsborough Hub having a positive impact on all aspects of our community and positively influencing happier, healthier lives for those in our county. In response to the Prize’s focus on 6 specific components, we believe the Hillsborough Hub will result in the following enhancements: 

Economics – Our vision will result in a farm economy that is resilient, reliable and responsible to the people it serves. It will be based on intimate relationships and direct marketing schemes to support a livable wage for all participants along the supply chain. In our vision, the landscape of production is varied to include producers of all sizes, backgrounds, and production strategies if those methods are ecologically responsible. We imagine the landscape including the following farm sizes:

●       Boutique farm - Less than 5 acres

●       Small farms - 5 - 10 acres

●       Mid-sized farm - 11- 30 acres

The main driver of the economy will be a cooperatively owned and managed Food Hub branch of the Hillsborough Hub. The hub will serve as an aggregator and distributor to larger institutional buyers such as school cafeterias, hospitals, restaurants, and grocery stores. The Food Hub would also have a staff member who organizes workshops, community outreach programs, and continuing education opportunities for both members of the co-op as well as non-members. 

Policy - In order to support the Vision, policy updates will need to occur. In our Vision, fresh and nutritious food is abundant, and all residents are food secure. Urban agriculture helps residents achieve food security through the implementation of community gardens and/or food forests. Unfortunately, urban agriculture policy is relatively undeveloped and sometimes prohibitive to support this mission. It would be essential to engage local elected officials and policy makers to create an urban agriculture policy that supports food security and resiliency. Some possible policy recommendations could include:

●       Regulations regarding size, height, and structures in a community garden

●       Regulations for animals such as chickens and goats

●       Regulations regarding apiary and beekeeping

●       Land-use guidelines to protect urban agriculture in dense urban neighborhoods

●       Land banking and preservation to help subsidize producers costs and ensure continuous production

●       Budget lines dedicated to food system development 

Technology- Our region is stocked with colleges and universities, therefore making it one of the best areas for continuing innovation. Both the University of Florida IFAS Extension, our state’s Land Grant University, as well as the University of South Florida have a large presence in our community. In addition to our major universities, we also have several community colleges and technical schools. In order to create an economically viable, environmentally responsible, and culturally appropriate community food system, we will need to engage students and researchers from these campuses to help track data, trends, and stories as a means to learn from our mistakes and share our successes. While “technology” in the modern sense, such as mobile apps, robotic pickers, and so on, may not be fully utilized in our relatively resource-limited food system, it is possible to develop other forms of technology that include devices to assist with rainwater collection, composting processes, distribution logistics, and online platforms and webinars. It is here we hope to leverage relationships with local academics to assist in the creation of these technologies. We already have some examples of hydroponics and vertical urban gardening in the region, as well as a thriving shipping container farm in the next county, and we aim to implement these food producing technologies to their fullest potential in Hillsborough County. 

Environment: Hillsborough County is one of the largest agricultural regions in the state with 34% of land area in farms. It is the #2 strawberry producing region in the country. Despite the agricultural focus in this unique urban/rural diverse county, the soils of Florida are not ideal for agriculture as they are sandy and deficient in nutrients, but they do drain well and are alkaline. The development of agriculture in the region has been dependent on chemical inputs, many produced locally as Hillsborough County contains one of the largest phosphate mines in the world operated by the largest agrochemical company in the world which is headquartered here: Mosaic. Environmental degradation resulting from this system of agricultural production has led to numerous environmental disasters, including aquifer contamination and nutrient run-off that has exacerbated redtide and dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. The Hillsborough Hub will focus on education and implementing into practice regenerative food production techniques from a systems thinking and circular economy approach. We will expand and implement a county wide composing awareness campaign to get foodscraps out of the waste stream to be composed for soil amendments for individual, commercial, and community food producers. 

Diet: Despite all that we do have in the county for support, job training, and food pantries, our statistics on poverty and food insecurity are alarming. We have data sets on hunger gaps and can pin it to the sub-zipcode level through excellent research from Feeding Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger, which we already have close ties to.  A Collective Impact Group formed several years ago around the issues of health has done a great job with the Healthy Hillsborough Community Health Assessment that helped us understand the health profiles of the 1.5 million people living in the county. The 2019 data showed 15.7% of people living beneath the poverty line with a plethora of health challenges, many related to diet: diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, mental health issues, substance abuse, and more. Food was just one part of their comprehensive research and participants in the debriefing included the fields of health, community development, pantry organizations, faith based organizations, and diversity organizations, but there were no farmers, producers, or food recovery organizations who are responsible for a huge part of our food system. In their study, 35.59% reported worrying about meeting their family’s food needs. Through increased local food production, gleaning, distribution, and education, the Hillsborough Hub will build upon the momentum created by this Collective Impact Group and use the food system as a focal point to move the needle on these metrics. 

Culture: We recognize that a vibrant food system acknowledges and utilizes each area’s multicultural diversity and faith based communities. The Hillsborough Hub will host Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) workshops focused on the food system in multicultural neighborhoods and with associations such as the Hispanic Services Council. The Hub will also pay heed to one of the main unifying belief systems in our communities: religion. Though we have many pantries operated by faith-based organizations from churches to synagogues and mosques, and even some gardens emerging, the efforts are not coordinated or sufficiently supported and require more volunteers, technical expertise, and promotion.Though working with organizations such as the Tampa Bay Council of Churches, the Hub will conduct a garden and pantry census and link faith-based organizations with the help they need.   

We hope all of the visions that are submitted to the Food System Vision Prize will become realities for all. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Colleague
View more

Attachments (6)

Appendix E Hub Org Map .JPG

This is a modeling for the organizational structure the Hillsborough Hub should take to maximize democratic participation and representation of the food system.

Appendix C community-food-system_circle .jpg

This map is to confirm the point that we are always thinking about systems approaches and the interconnected layers and webs of our food system.

Appendix A Stakeholder Map.jfif

This is a snapshot of the comprehensive and interactive stakeholder map we have been compiling for the project through Kumu.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Brooke  Hansen

Dr. Joseph Dorsey, the Director of the Food Sustainability and Security Program at the University of South Florida, Patel College of Global Sustainability, is also a member of our team.

View all comments