How local is local? Determining the boundaries of local food in practice
This paper addresses the question of how local can be defined in practice. It contributes to the growing literature on local food systems and particularly our understanding of what counts as local and the elements that influence those contours. While most of our conceptions of local food tend to rely on an articulation of either proximity traveled or relationship between entities, I argue that a more nuanced and complete understanding must take account of both of these aspects. I draw on a dataset of locally oriented farm and food-related establishments in southern New England to identify how far local food travels in this region and how interconnected local food establishments are with one another and use these and other measures to tease out the tension between proximity and relationship as measures of local. I find that these two aspects (how far food travels and the number of connections with other local food entities) not only are connected to each other in a complex dynamic, but also are bound up with other structural factors as well (such as size, type of operation, and proximity to an urban center).
KeywordsLocal food Farm-to-retail Food miles
I am grateful for Ryan Acton’s indispensible work in helping to compile the network data for this project. I am also grateful to Joya Misra, Jennifer Lundquist, Leslie King, Mark Pachucki, Kate Clancy, and three anonymous reviewers for insightful feedback and comments in preparing this manuscript, as well as to my dissertation writing support group for always (gently) pushing me to do better. Thanks also go to Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture and all the farm and retailer participants in Western Massachusetts who participated in this research. The Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society provided encouragement with Honorable Mention in the 2012 Graduate Student Paper Award.
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