Growing local food: scale and local food systems governance
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“Scaling-up” is the next hurdle facing the local food movement. In order to effect broader systemic impacts, local food systems (LFS) will have to grow, and engage either more or larger consumers and producers. Encouraging the involvement of mid-sized farms looks to be an elegant solution, by broadening the accessibility of local food while providing alternative revenue streams for troubled family farms. Logistical, structural and regulatory barriers to increased scale in LFS are well known. Less is understood about the way in which scale developments affect the perception and legitimacy of LFS. This value-added opportunity begs the question: Is the value that adheres to local food scalable? Many familiar with local food discourse might suggest that important pieces of added value within LFS are generated by the reconnection of producer and consumer, the direct exchange through which this occurs, and the shared goals and values that provide the basis for reconnection. However, these assertions are based on tenuous assumptions about how interactions within the direct exchange produce value, and how LFS are governed. Examination shows that existing assumptions do not properly acknowledge the hybridity, diversity, and flexibility inherent in LFS. A clear analysis of the potential of scale in LFS will depend on understanding both how value is determined within LFS, and the processes through which these systems are governed. Such an analysis shows that, while scaled-up LFS will be challenged to maintain legitimacy and an identity as “alternative”, the establishment of an open governance process—based on a “negotiation of accommodations”—is likely to enhance their viability.
KeywordsLocal food Scale Value-added Direct exchange Governance Local food systems Family farms Alternative agriculture
Local food systems
John Smithers, Janet Chrzan, editor Harvey James, and three anonymous reviewers each supplied constructive comments and suggestions that improved earlier versions of this paper. The Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society provided encouragement with the 2010 Student Paper Award, while Denise Bonin-Mount (as always) provided invaluable support and nourishment.
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