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Scaling-up regional fruit and vegetable distribution: potential for adaptive change in the food system

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As demand for locally grown food increases there have been calls to ‘scale-up’ local food production to regionally distribute food and to sell into more mainstream grocery and retail venues where consumers are already shopping. Growing research and practice focusing on how to improve, expand and conceptualize regional distribution systems includes strategies such as value chain development using the Agriculture of the Middle (AOTM) framework. When the Ohio Food Policy Advisory Council asked how they could scale-up the distribution of Ohio fresh fruits and vegetables to Ohioans, we decided to use this practical opportunity to not only provide recommendations to this council, but to simultaneously contribute to the literature on AOTM, value-based and spatially–proximate relationships, and conceptualizations of food system hybridity. We do this while examining an entire sub-sector of the Ohio agricultural economy, namely fruit and vegetables and applying the AOTM framework beyond the farm, namely to distributors and retailers. Through interviews with Ohio retailers and a survey of all fresh fruit and vegetable distributors Ohio we: (1) Describe current distribution systems within the state; (2) Identify firms interested in scaling-up distribution, and; (3) Inform state-level policy efforts by identifying opportunities to better target any state-level policy and program efforts. We demonstrate support for the concept of AOTM applied beyond the farm, for value chain development strategies that can transmit ‘quality’ via spatially proximate supply chains, and support for considering hybrid solutions, such as piggybacking for scaling-up local food systems. This work highlights the role a statewide food policy council can have in facilitating market development and their unique position to provide public sector and institutional support to facilitate meaningful connections in the food system.

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  1. See for a detailed discussion of the national initiative. The sales range for mid-size farms and ranches is $50,000 to $500,000, but the team notes that AOTM farms are scale-related but not scale-determined.

  2. See

  3. See Day-Farnsworth et al. (2009) for hybrid examples of including Wescott Agri Products and Alsum Produce.

  4. While the OFPAC was unable to use this database because of it was dissolved, the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Ohio Proud program has been able to use the list to invite distributors to ‘meet the buyer’ events.



Agriculture of the middle


Ohio Food Policy Advisory Council


Short food supply chains


United States Department of Agriculture


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Funding for this project was provided through a grant from the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture under the provisions of the Specialty Crop Block Grant. We thank Jeff Sharp for his guidance. We thank the survey respondents for taking the time to fill out our survey and the retailers for allowing us to interview them. Finally, we thank Harvey James, Emily Stengel and the anonymous reviewers for their feedback.

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Correspondence to Jill K. Clark.

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Clark, J.K., Inwood, S.M. Scaling-up regional fruit and vegetable distribution: potential for adaptive change in the food system. Agric Hum Values 33, 503–519 (2016).

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