Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 149–162 | Cite as

"We are a business, not a social service agency." Barriers to widening access for low-income shoppers in alternative food market spaces

  • Kelly J. HodginsEmail author
  • Evan D. G. Fraser


Alternative food networks are emerging in opposition to industrial food systems, but are criticized as being exclusive, since customers’ ability to patronize these market spaces is premised upon their ability to pay higher prices for what are considered the healthiest, freshest foods. In response, there is growing interest in widening the demographic profile given access to these alternative foods. This research asks: what barriers do alternative food businesses face in providing access and inclusion for low income consumers? Surveys and interviews with 45 alternative food businesses in British Columbia, Canada uncovered five key barriers. The findings indicate that the barriers are symptomatic of structural issues in the Canadian food and social welfare systems. Although opportunities exist for business operators to widen access for low income shoppers, these alone cannot meaningfully ameliorate food-access inequality. Rather, these barriers underscore issues of income-disparity, poverty, and food-access inequality more broadly, and require structural and societal change to rectify.


Food justice Food security Farmers’ markets Poverty Food access Alternative food networks 



Alternative food network


British Columbia, Canada


Corporate social responsibility


Farmers market


British Columbia Association of Farmers Markets Nutrition Coupon Program




Social enterprise



Sincere gratitude to Dr. Kate Parizeau for her generous and thoughtful contributions and critiques in shaping this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

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